Athletes know the feeling all too well.
That gut-wrenching feeling of having a season come to an abrupt end after training for months in order to achieve one common goal.
It’s one that members of Florida’s lacrosse team are familiar with after they lost 11-8 against No. 4 James Madison in the NCAA quarterfinals last year.
“That loss obviously hurt,” senior goalkeeper Haley Hicklen said. “This season, we’re using it to fuel the fire and remember what it feels like to lose.”
The No. 6 Gators will have their first chance at redemption on Saturday as they travel to Boulder, Colorado, to face No. 17 Colorado in the season opener.
This game marks the third meeting between UF and CU, with the Gators holding a 2-0 series advantage. Florida defeated Colorado 16-9 in the first game of the 2018 campaign and the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament by a score of 13-9.
Unlike the first two matchups against the Buffaloes, Florida will be without graduated seniors Shayna Pirreca (attacker) and Aniya Flanagan (defender).
Pirreca, who is in her first season as assistant coach of Wagner’s women’s lacrosse team, started all 21 games for the Gators and tied for the team lead with 81 points as a senior. She scored a combined six goals in two games against the CU last season.
Flanagan is now playing in the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League after being selected 24th overall by the Baltimore Brave. Last year’s team captain finished her senior year with 42 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers.
UF will rely heavily on its 13-player freshmen class to fill the roles left behind by both Pirecca and Flanagan.
“(The freshmen) came in here as a highly touted group and have lived up to those expectations.” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “So we’re going to see a lot of them getting quality minutes.”
Perhaps the most notable of those freshmen is attacker Hannah Mardiney, who ranked as the No. 6 recruit in the Class of 2018 by Inside Lacrosse.
Mardiney used her blend of speed, elusiveness and ambidexterity to score 55 goals and tallied a career-high 45 assists in her senior year of high school, earning her All-USA Player of the Year honors.
Although UF has made the NCAA Tournament for eight consecutive years, it has not gone past the quarterfinals since it appeared in the 2012 Final Four.
That, however, has not fazed Hicklen and the rest of the team. In fact, it motivated them to set bigger expectations for themselves in 2019.
“We haven’t quite gotten to the (National Championship) yet,” she said. “But we’re ready to go this year.”
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bmatamoros_ and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UF lacrosse goalkeeper Haley Hicklen said the Gators are still hurt by their 11-8 loss against No. 4 James Madison in the NCAA quarterfinals last year. “This season, we’re using it to fuel the fire and remember what it feels like to lose," she said.