It was a season of breaking records and defying expectations.
Despite Florida’s No. 5 rank in the national preseason polls, UF fans were still concerned with the team losing 13 players to graduation in 2013 and replacing them with 11 freshmen.
When Florida defeated Ohio State 10-9 on March 22 to improve to 10-2 to start the year, fans began to see the impact of the 11 new additions.
So when Florida lost in the 12-11 double-overtime game against Northwestern on Saturday, it was a hard pill to swallow for coach Amanda O’Leary.
“I’m just really proud of our seniors, what they brought to the table, their leadership, their love, they’re caring and I’m sad for them,” O’Leary said. “They gave so much to this program over the course of this four years for Krista (Grabher) and five years for Cara (Canington).”
Attacker Sammi Burgess, midfielder Mollie Stevens and defender Caroline Fitzgerald — a trio of freshmen — became vital players for O’Leary alongside juniors Shannon Gilroy and Nora Barry.
Burgess was one of Florida’s biggest recruits before the start of the season. The 5-foot-3 attacker never lost a game during her four years at the McDonogh School in Maryland and became known at Florida for being a vital scorer when Gilroy failed.
Stevens also came in as a top recruit but she spent her time in high school as an attacker. When Stevens arrived at Florida, O’Leary immediately moved her to midfield in an attempt to give other midfielders, like Sam Darcangelo and Nora Barry, a chance to rest. Stevens completed the season with 38 points and a reputation for her ability to score on the fast break.
Fitzgerald became Florida’s go-to player when it needed someone to guard the opponent’s best scorer. Fitzgerald covered star-offensive players like Syracuse’s Kayla Treanor and Northwestern’s Alyssa Leonard. The Mount Sinai, N.Y., native finished the season with the most caused turnovers on defense (22) and 30 ground balls.
Although the freshmen were the Gators’ biggest and most unexpected story of the year, Gilroy also made a splash in the lacrosse community.
The Northport, N.Y., native broke the single-season record for most points (106), goals (86) and goals per game (4.15). Gilroy is the second-best offensive player in the country behind Syracuse’s Treanor.
Even with Gilroy putting points on the board, it wasn’t just goals that she brought to the team. In situations like Saturday when Northwestern’s defense controlled Florida’s scoring opportunities and stopped many of their offensive possessions, Gilroy used her notoriety as an offensive threat to get teammates like Burgess and Barry open for easy goals.
“I need to worry more about my teammates more than what I need to do to get open because it’s always really difficult for me to get off the ball and get open,” Gilroy said. “So I needed to be really prepared to help them and do the best I can for them.”
With the disappointment of not making it past the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, Florida will come back in 2015 with one goal in mind: Win a national title.
Senior goalkeeper Cara Canington gave her final thoughts on where the Gators would be in the 2015 season and it matched that of Florida fans sentiments.
“I think the sky’s the limit for this team,” Canington said. “I think there is nothing but great things to come.”
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.