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Thursday, February 02, 2023
<p>Freshman attacker Shayna Pirreca (7) looks to pass the ball during Florida's 17-11 loss to North Carolina on Feb. 7 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.</p>

Freshman attacker Shayna Pirreca (7) looks to pass the ball during Florida's 17-11 loss to North Carolina on Feb. 7 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

Any successful team is made up of more than just a talented starting lineup and a well-respected head coach.

Sure, there are a few superstars who become household names and the faces of the team, but when even the lesser-known players are contributing valuable minutes game after game, you know you’ve got a special squad.

Florida lacrosse, now in just its sixth year of existence, has already seen its fair share of talented teams come and go through the locker rooms of Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

But this year’s group may turn out to be one of the strongest, partly due to the early production from its freshmen.

The No. 4 Gators have an eight-player freshman class this season, and each one has seen playing time in at least two of the three games Florida has had to begin the year.

The group is already making a positive impact on the team and good impressions on coach Amanda O’Leary.

"I was really impressed with our younger classmen," O’Leary said regarding Florida’s 21-0 win over Michigan on Saturday. "One of the bright spots was Morgan Bracken. She’s a defender who has, I think, been playing really, really well each and every day."

O’Leary also commended freshman defender Aniya Flanagan, who is the only freshman to start each of Florida’s first three games.

Olivia Cole, the freshman goalkeeper, played the entire second half against Michigan and secured Florida’s second ever shutout.

And, after Saturday’s win, O’Leary dubbed freshmen Shayna Pirreca, Allie Pavinelli and Bella O’Connor the "future of Florida lacrosse" with what they’ve been able to do so far in their young careers.

The offensive trio of Pirreca, Pavinelli and O’Connor has been impressive.

Pavinelli, a midfielder, has loaded the stat sheet with one goal, three assists, two groundballs and three draw controls.

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O’Connor scored a hat trick on Saturday for her first three goals as a Gator and has looked very confident at the attacker position.

Attacker Pirreca, who has played in all three games and started against Jacksonville last Thursday, may be the most strikingly talented freshman of the group.

She has netted two goals, including Florida’s first of the season, but her drive is what O’Leary finds unusual of such a young player.

"Shayna’s another one that puts the time in, she was also out there on Sunday after the Carolina game working hard," O’Leary said. "She’s a person that you see every day working out on her own. I think she, personally, has made tremendous strides, but she understands she has work to do as a freshman."

Such a strong class of freshmen is something that any coach would love to have and, fortunately for O’Leary, these young players are only three games into their college careers.

The potential for growth and development of each of them spells a very bright future for an already flourishing program.

Follow Alex Maminakis on Twitter @alexmaminakis

Freshman attacker Shayna Pirreca (7) looks to pass the ball during Florida's 17-11 loss to North Carolina on Feb. 7 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

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