What began as the greatest start in program history ended in disappointing fashion for the Florida lacrosse program.
After starting the season 18-1 — the lone loss coming against Maryland, a team that held the No. 1 spot all season long — the No. 2 Gators dropped their first game of the NCAA Tournament to Penn State in a shocking 14-13 overtime upset on Sunday.
The loss marked the second year in a row that UF failed to make the tournament’s quarterfinal round after having done so in 2013 and 2014.
“I don’t think we played as hard as we could have in the first half and Penn State ran away with it a little bit,” senior attacker Lauren Lea said in a release following Sunday’s loss.
“It all comes down to the final seconds and we couldn’t come up with the win.”
Prior to Sunday, UF was one of the most feared teams in the country.
Led by redshirt senior midfielder Nicole Graziano, the Gators cruised to a 6-1 regular-season record against ranked opponents, with two of the wins coming against then-No. 2 North Carolina and then-No. 2 Syracuse teams on the road.
Florida also swept their conference schedule to claim the Big East regular-season title.
Graziano, who was named one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, and honor given to the nation’s top collegiate lacrosse player, led Florida in goals (44), points (61), free position goals (12) and draw controls (45). S
The Mendham, New Jersey, native scored five goals in the conference tournament, helping UF secure its second-straight Big East Tournament title and fourth overall conference tournament championship in the program’s history.
Graziano was the first of three Gators to score her 100th career goal this season, doing so on April 24 in the regular-season finale against Connecticut.
And even though this season was Graziano’s last at Florida, UF returns a group of five talented players for next year, including freshmen Sydney Pirreca (25 goals) and Lindsey Ronbeck (36 goals).
However, the loss of Graziano will leave a significant hole in the draw circle, a place where UF struggled the most throughout the season.
It will be the second-straight season UF’s leader in draw controls will not be with the team the following year.
Shannon Gilroy, who secured 79 of Florida’s 304 draw controls in 2015, graduated after the season’s end.
The Gators will lose four regular starters in Graziano, Lea, defender Sydney DuPre and goalie Mary-Sean Wilcox.
Wilcox will likely be replaced by rising sophomore Haley Hicklen, who played a career-high 48:13 in Sunday’s loss.
The senior class, which has lost just 14 games at Florida, served as the emotional backbone for this year’s team.
“They are such an amazing group of young women,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said in a release.
“What they have done with this team — I credit them with their leadership and their love for their teammates.”
According to LaxPower’s unofficial recruiting list, UF currently has eight players committed to next year’s team.
Two of the prospective Gators — defender Cara Trombetta and attacker/midfielder Coeli Love — are among the top players in the country and have been committed to Florida since 2014.
The 2017 season will be the Gators’ eighth in program history — all under O’Leary — and third in the Big East.
Florida has an all-time record of 105-38 (.734) and has just two seasons with more than four losses.
Contact Kyle Brutman at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him in Twitter @KBrut13.
Angela Flister (left) hugs Aniya Flanagan (right) after Florida was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament at Donald R. Dizney Stadium on Sunday.