The Florida lacrosse team’s season came to an end on Sunday following a heartbreaking loss to USC – a team it beat earlier in the season – in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The loss, however, doesn’t reflect the season the Gators had.
There were several questions surrounding the team before the start of the season. How will they play during a tough non-conference schedule? Which freshmen will step up and contribute to the team right away? Who would lead the offense following Nicole Graziano's graduation?
Looking back now, all of those questions were answered.
Florida entered the season scheduled to play five of the preseason top-six teams, and it faired pretty well.
The Gators only had two losses in the regular season, a 13-10 battle against then-No. 1 UNC and an 18-8 defeat against No. 1 Maryland.
Against USC, Syracuse and Stony Brook, the Gators outscored their opponents 56-36 and were in command for most of the outings. Against ranked opponents, Florida went 5-2.
Some of that has to do with the play of UF's freshmen.
This season saw the rise of defender Cara Trombetta and midfielder Brianna Harris as starters and playmakers on the roster.
Trombetta led the Gators in caused turnovers with 27, the most ever by a freshman in program history, and 40 ground balls.
For Harris, the Arnold, Maryland, native was a reliable scoring threat for Florida all season. She finished seventh on the team in points with 19 goals and 11 assists.
Even attacker Madisyn Kittell received significant playing time. In 15 games, she scored 12 goals and had four assists, good for eighth on the team in points behind Harris.
Another reason for Florida's success this season was the impact its seniors had on the team. Attacker Mollie Stevens led the Gators in goals (59) and attacker Sammi Burgess led in points (82), while defenders Caroline Fitzgerald and Taylor Bresnahan set the all-time marks at Florida for ground balls and caused turnovers, respectively.
While Florida will be losing a talented senior class that led the team both in scoring and on defense, it still has some players ready to shoulder the load in the 2018 season.
On attack, UF still has Lindsey Ronbeck, who finished the season with 53 goals, and Shayna Pirreca, who scored 50 goals.
At midfield, the Gators will return all three of its starters in Allie Pavinelli, Sydney Pirreca and Harris.
And on defense, Trombetta and Aniya Flanagan will anchor a Gators back line looking to fill the void left behind by Fitzgerald and Bresnahan.
Florida already has some established scorers returning next year, but it will also look towards a new signing class to step up, as well.
The Gators will see nine new faces on campus in the fall, which includes four selections to the Under Armour All-America game in midfielders Shannon Kavanagh and Eddy Shoop, attacker Grace Haus and defender Sabrina Cristodero.
“These young women are all very special and will make an immediate impact on our campus both on the lacrosse field and off,” O’Leary said in a release in November. “Not only are they hard workers on the field, but they are diligent students as well, and will be a great representation of our team and the University of Florida. I couldn’t be happier they are all Gators.”
Next season will be a test for Florida to see if it can continue to play at the same level without its anchors on both offense and defense.
But with the talent still on the team, not to mention the talent the team will be getting in 2018, the Gators will still be considered one of the top teams in women's college lacrosse.
Contact Jake Dreilinger at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DreilingerJake.
Mollie Stevens (17) and Sammi Burgess (2) embrace during Florida's 15-8 win against Denver on March 25, 2017, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.