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Saturday, October 23, 2021
<p>Sammi Burgess makes a play on the ball during Florida's 14-4 loss on March 19, 2016 Maryland at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.&nbsp;</p>

Sammi Burgess makes a play on the ball during Florida's 14-4 loss on March 19, 2016 Maryland at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. 

Last season was one of the best seasons in Florida lacrosse program history.

It featured a sweep of both the Big East regular season and tournament championships, an 18-1 start to the season (the best in program history), and a .900 winning percentage, good for second best all-time.

Individually, certain players reached career milestones.

Three Gators, Nicole Graziano, Sammi Burgess and Mollie Stevens, achieved 100 career goals, making them the sixth, seventh and eighth players to do so.

Mary-Sean Wilcox ended her career IN goal No. 2 all-time with 278 saves.

Even coach Amanda O’Leary reached a milestone, notching her 100th win at Florida.

It was an incredible season for the program, but one that ultimately fell flat at the end.

In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Gators fell to the Penn State Nittany Lions 14-13 in overtime after Penn State goalie Emi Smith saved a last-second shot from Sydney Pirreca that hovered around the goal-line to send the game to overtime.

Although UF had a disappointing finish to the season, they established themselves as the team to be feared in the Big East.

They captured their sixth consecutive Big East regular season title after going undefeated in conference play and won their fourth tournament title.

During non-conference play, Florida went 6-1 against ranked teams, including its only loss of the season against then-No. 1 Maryland.

A lot of Florida’s successes came on the backs of experienced seniors, like Graziano, who led the team in goals (44), assists (17), points (61) and shots (88), and Wilcox.

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But with a senior class of ten players gone, the team will look to a mix of younger and veteran players to get the job done and the next set of leaders and playmakers to emerge.

They already have one in sophomore attacker Lindsey Ronbeck, who started in every game for Florida as a freshman and finished third on the team with 36 goals.

Add the offensive threats of seniors Stevens and Burgess, and that’s 98 goals last season.

On defense, the Gators are led by two team captains in seniors Taylor Bresnahan and Caroline Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is No. 2 all-time in career ground balls (106) and No. 3 in caused turnovers (61), while Bresnahan is No. 2 in caused turnovers (63).

And at goal, Florida gave sophomore Haley Hicklen significant playing time to take over for Wilcox this season.

She started the second half in 18 games this season, making 62 saves and playing 48 minutes in goal in the NCAA Tournament game against Penn State.

While Florida has its established players, there are plenty of opportunities for some of the incoming freshmen to contribute.

Last season, it was Ronbeck and Hicklen who made their presence known and got a lot of playing time.

This season, there are seven new players looking to do the same.

Two freshmen, defender Cara Trombetta, a 2015 Under Armour All-American, and midfielder Brianna Harris, the 2016 Capital Gazette Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year, are looking to make an impact to an already strong team and help fill the void the seniors left when they graduated.

While the Gators might not be able to replicate all the successes of last season, they still aspire to win both the Big East regular season and tournament titles.

But what they will look to change in relation to 2016 is how far they can make it in the NCAA Tournament, where they are looking to escape a two-year drought from the quarterfinals.

The team opens play this Saturday at 3 p.m. with an exhibition against the U.S. National Team in Bradenton, Florida.

Contact Jake Dreilinger at jdreilinger@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @DreilingerJake.

Sammi Burgess makes a play on the ball during Florida's 14-4 loss on March 19, 2016 Maryland at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. 

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