Florida hasn’t won a Southeastern Lacrosse Conference championship since 2010 and hasn't been ranked in the top-10 since 2009. The Gators men’s lacrosse club team hasn’t played a regular-season game in almost two seasons.
Yet, with the buy-in from the players and the guidance of head coach Garrett Hanrahan, Florida has its highest ranking in over a decade and are prime contenders not only for a conference title, but the program’s first-ever national championship.
Hanrahan, a former Gators lacrosse player himself, took over the program in the fall of 2016, and looked to elevate it in the ever-changing Men’s Club Lacrosse Association. The MCLA has grown massively over the last decade, expanding across the country and becoming an increasingly professional organization.
“We realized at some point that it wasn't just about our own program's evolution, it was about recognizing that the MCLA as a whole was evolving,” Hanrahan said. “The reality at the MCLA level is it really does, at least at the top, toe the line between club and varsity.”
When Hanrahan claimed control, both himself and some of the leaders within the team recognized the need to elevate and professionalize the club. This was a necessary step to reach their competitive goals and build a consistently successful program.
To fully maximize the potential of the club, it requires dedication from the players. An aspect especially important at the club sports level, where the players hold so much power in running and organizing the squad each year.
“No team is going to be successful without the commitment and the buy-in of the players,” Hanrahan said. “We've worked hard every year to find a way to elevate that commitment level.”
Hanrahan also noted how the culture couldn’t be manufactured by himself or the coaching staff, instead of having to be built from the ground up by the players. This incremental growth, development and progress over the last five years came to a head in 2020.
The Gators had strong 2017 and 2018 campaigns, winning at least 10 games both years, but they didn’t make waves nationally. The 2019 season finished a disappointing 5-7. In 2020, however, Florida started making noise throughout the MCLA.
UF started the season 8-3, including an upset of then-No. 14 Virginia Tech, and broke into the national top-25 for the first time under Hanrahan. The Gators were poised to make a run at their third SELC title and potentially get back to the national tournament, but then the COVID-19 pandemic ended those dreams.
The 2020 season ended abruptly and the 2021 season featured a makeshift schedule without national or conference tournaments, only a handful of local games. The Gators continued to build through the rocky pandemic seasons, and have finally grown into one of the nation’s elite lacrosse clubs.
“Now that we're back, I guess you could say this year it's all sort of come together in a sense, at least so far,” Hanrahan said.
Florida finished the regular season 13-1 and ranked No. 5 in the Coaches Poll. They clinched a spot in the SELC semi finals and won three games against ranked opponents.
Florida is led by a veteran-laden roster, especially on defense, where seniors and graduate students lead the way. Senior goalie and captain Matthew Corazon anchors the unit with his 62% save rate. The experienced group of close defenseman in front of him, including Parker Beeson and Tyler Schaffer, shut down opposing attackmen.
“I think that we are coaches on the field as much as we are players on the field,” Corazon said. “[It’s] really great to see that we have such a high-IQ defensive unit who can all talk in a way that's very beneficial for us.”
Corazon and the other senior leaders have helped instill the hardworking culture within the team, and it’s reflected on the scoreboard. The Gators won four games by two goals or less, including a signature 10-9 overtime win over No. 8 Georgia Tech.
“I think this group refuses to quit even when we're down, or even when we're walking into a matchup that many people said that we shouldn't have won,” Corazon said. “We have the capability to put up goals fast and we can compete with anybody in the country.”
That fast offense is a younger and more inexperienced unit, but is still making waves.
Two of the team’s three leading scorers are in their first seasons: junior midfielder James Duggan and freshman attackman Will Halligan. The offense still has its leaders though, including midfield captains senior Nolan Testa and junior Will Asher.
With a successful regular season in the rearview, all eyes now turn to the postseason, especially after not even having the opportunity to compete for silverware over the last two years.
“We'd be lying if we said that part of why you do this is because you want to play in meaningful games,” Hanrahan said. “It's even more special because the reward for you know, a year well spent and for a lot of hard work is that we've now come to the place where there's something on the line every game.”
The program looks to cap off a historic season in the SELC Championship in Jacksonville, Florida, playing South Carolina in the semifinal April 23.
The Gators will hope to qualify for the MCLA National Tournament in Round Rock, Texas, this May.
Contact Topher Adams at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.
Topher Adams is a third-year journalism major and one of the assistant sports editors for the Spring 2023 semester. He also covered Florida football lacrosse for the paper and loves to follow MLS soccer and professional lacrosse.