Age before beauty doesn’t really describe Florida’s lacrosse team, but that’s mainly because it has nothing to do with teams or even sports.
This season, No. 4 Florida (10-2, 2-0 American Lacrosse Conference) has faced some of its toughest opponents in the country with its youngest team since UF’s inaugural class.
While it’s been noted many times that Florida’s age was a concern, the class of freshmen has proven that all the recruiting hype wasn’t just that.
After starting the season against No. 1 UNC and then going against No. 3 Syracuse, No. 16 Loyola, now-No. 17 Stony Brook and most recently No. 20 Ohio State, Florida has shown what its 11 newest additions are truly made of.
With the team’s only losses coming against Syracuse and UNC, coach Amanda O’Leary said the tough mentality that the team has shown is what makes its age irrelevant.
“We’ve asked a lot of them,” O’Leary said.
“At one point against Dartmouth, we started five freshmen on that field. So we’re putting them out there and they’re responding.”
Freshman starters like Taylor Bresnahan and Caroline Fitzgerald have been the backbone of Florida’s defense this season. Both Bresnahan and Fitzgerald have defended against the two top offensive opponents for every team Florida has faced this season, O’Leary said.
Fitzgerald has caused more turnovers (13) than the rest of the defense combined (10). Bresnahan has 12 draw controls, 11 caused turnovers and 11 ground balls.
While Bresnahan and Fitzgerald control the defensive effort, freshmen Mollie Stevens and Sammi Burgess have made a huge impact on the Gators’ offense this season.
Burgess, who has started in every game this season, is the second-highest scoring player for the Gators with 21 goals and 11 assists, giving her a combined 32 points this season.
She’s also grabbed 16 ground balls.
Stevens has also been an offensive powerhouse. The Centreville, Md., freshman has 20 goals and one assist to give her a combined total of 21 points.
However, Stevens is more than a scorer. Coming into the season, Stevens had mainly played attacker.
With Florida short on midfielders, O’Leary moved her to the midfield position.
Despite the position change, Stevens has excelled — picking up 17 ground balls, causing four turnovers and taking four draw controls.
While Stevens, Burgess, Fitzgerald and Bresnahan have become important players, the other seven freshmen on the team are looking to get on the field more in the final five games of the regular season.
O’Leary also said she’s working to get the entire freshman class on the field and close out the season with minutes under each of their belts.
Against Dartmouth, O’Leary changed the lineup so that more freshmen would start against the Big Green. O’Leary said fans can look to seeing more of the freshmen on the field in the coming games.
“We’re seeing a lot of help out there from our freshman class and that’s we need to do because obviously they’re the future to this team,” O’Leary said. “It’s fun to see them mature and get better each and every day and do what we need them to do in those games.”
The freshmen’s success has been a mild surprise to O’Leary. Replacing a large senior class is never easy — especially one as important as the Gators’ inaugural class.
“Had you of asked me probably in the beginning of the year if we would be where we are right now, I would smile and probably say ‘Oh, sure,’ but still that doubt in my mind,” she said.
“Having graduated 13 seniors, that’s a huge class to graduate and ones who had seen the majority of the time.”
Follow Eden Otero on Twitter @edenotero_l
Sammi Burgess drives toward the net during Florida’s 18-7 win against High Point on Feb. 15 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. The freshman attacker finished second on the team with 53 points.