For a team that reached the NCAA quarterfinals last season, Florida lacrosse is looking to go even further and get even stronger this year with national title implications on its mind.
The Gators finished the 2014 season ranked No. 4 in the country with an 18-3 record, their season ending with a loss to then-No. 5 Northwestern 12-11 in the NCAA quarterfinals in Gainesville.
The story of last season for Florida was the impact that the freshman class of 11 players made on the team. Sammi Burgess, Mollie Stevens and Caroline Fitzgerald were three who stood out and quickly became valuable parts of the club despite playing just their first year of collegiate lacrosse.
Burgess finished second on the team with 38 goals and 53 points, Stevens started 17 matches at midfield and notched 38 points, and Fitzgerald caused a team-high-tying 22 turnovers.
The Gators got a glimpse last season of what their future holds, and it looks to be nothing but bright. Florida is ranked No. 3 in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll behind Maryland and North Carolina. With such talent among its young players, Florida is already cementing itself as one of, if not the strongest teams in the nation.
Florida has only three seniors on its roster heading into 2015 in Nora Barry, Shannon Gilroy and Mikki Offit. Gilroy has stood out in her time as a Gator as one of the best players in the country. Last season alone, Gilroy broke the single-season records for most points (106), goals (86) and goals per game (4.15). Her 86 goals last year were also the most of any player in the nation.
Gilroy has been named to the preseason All-American first team for 2015 by Inside Lacrosse. Fitzgerald and Barry were named to the preseason second team.
But even with the thrill of coming off of an 18-win season and the anticipation of yet another winning year, the Gators may be most excited about joining the Big East Conference as an affiliate member in 2015.
Florida won four American Lacrosse Conference championships in the last five years. Joining the Big East now means facing the country’s best teams on a regular basis. The Gators will face four schools that finished in the top 10 of the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association’s 2014 season-ending poll.
Florida’s schedule this year features six first-time matchups, including the defending national champion Maryland Terrapins (last year No. 1). The Gators will also face North Carolina (No. 5) in the season opener on Feb. 7, Syracuse (No. 2) and Loyola (No. 9).
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Shannon Gilroy breaks away from a group of defenders during Florida’s 21-5 win against Jacksonville on Feb. 12 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.