After its defeat to Penn State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Florida lacrosse team lost 10 seniors to graduation.
Included in that group was its leading scorer.
Midfielder Nicole Graziano was a big part of the success the team enjoyed last season, during which the Gators went 18-2 and won the Big East regular-season and tournament titles.
Graziano led the Gators with 44 goals and 17 assists, earning her Big East Most Outstanding Player and Midfielder of the Year honors.
But with her departure, UF faces the challenge of finding a way to replace her role.
“Because we have such a powerful offense, everybody is going to kind of step up,” attacker Sammi Burgess said. “She was such a huge presence, so it’s not necessarily replacing her, but it’s kind of getting something together that’s (just) as powerful as she was.”
UF has the talent to do that.
On top of Burgess, who finished second in goals with 41, Florida has a string of talent looking to help the team even more.
Senior midfielder Mollie Stevens, who enters her final season at Florida, recorded her 100th career goal en route to 21 goals last season.
Sophomores Lindsey Ronbeck and Sydney Pirreca both ended last season in the top five on the team in goals, with Ronbeck scoring 36 and Pirreca adding 25.
And when the season starts this Saturday against No. 1 North Carolina, the Gators will look to Pirreca and Ronbeck to help lead the charge.
“I think having that home-field advantage will make this game even more emotional for us,” Ronbeck said. “I think it’s going to be great competition.”
Great competition will be the story of the Gators’ non-conference schedule this season, as the defending champion Tarheels will be the first of five top-10 teams they will face.
“We had the opportunity to play the U.S. National Team… however, there’s not really anything on the line,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “But now, we play North Carolina, No. 1 in the country, and there’s a lot in the line with this game.”
UF hasn’t had much luck against top-ranked opponents as it lost to then-No. 1 Maryland last season, 14-4.
But against UNC last season, Florida came out on top in Chapel Hill, barely surviving a 16-15 fight against the Tarheels.
This season, the Gators are hoping for a similar result.
Sammi Burgess makes a play on the ball during Florida's 14-4 loss on March 19, 2016 Maryland at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.