For some Gators, lacrosse and home go hand in hand — and assistant coach Nicole Levy helps them feel it even 1,177 miles away in Gainesville.
Levy — along with several players of the UF women’s lacrosse team — are from Long Island, New York — a lacrosse hotspot. In Long Island, she said, almost everyone plays at least one season of youth league lacrosse as a kid.
Levy played collegiately at Syracuse University for four seasons, where she recorded 81 assists, the eighth-highest total in program history. She later moved out west to coach at Colorado after college. She noticed one of the prominent differences between east- and west-coast lacrosse was the level of competition.
“You move out west, and there’s some high schools that still, unfortunately, don't have [lacrosse],” she said.
Most players on the team moved to Gainesville from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut. Levy found lacrosse isn’t nearly as popular among younger athletes in Florida as it is in New York.
“It makes it a little bit harder for them to play catch up with some of these kids that have played year-round competitively since they were 4 years old,” she said.
Junior attack player Danielle Pavinelli is from Northport, New York, where she started her lacrosse career in kindergarten. Her older sister, Allie, graduated from Florida in 2018 and played attack for Gator lacrosse.
Danielle Pavinelli has always had a soft spot for UF, as she would often travel to Gainesville to watch Allie play.
“I would love coming down to visit her and just seeing her games,” she said. “That's kind of where I fell in love with UF.”
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Sarah Reznick, also from New York, played against many of her current teammates during club and high school lacrosse. Reznick even grew up playing lacrosse against future teammate Taylor Walheim.
“I used to play her growing up,” she said. “Then I played her when she was at [North Carolina], and now I'm actually teammates with her.”
Reznick also played against sophomore Emma LoPinto, an attack player from Manhasset, New York.
“I was a freshman, she was a senior,” LoPinto said. “I did score against her.”
Having teammates, like Reznick and Pavinelli, from the same region helped ease her homesickness, LoPinto said. Her family often travels to her away games up north to watch her play, another pick-me-up when she misses home.
“I'm lucky enough to have my parents and my siblings come to games,” she said. “That is a huge part for me, and it makes me realize how grateful I am for my parents to come down for a two-hour game.”
Players from the northeast, such as Pavinelli, Reznick and LoPinto, are grateful to be playing lacrosse in Florida weather. Levy considers the heat and humidity an advantage since most of their rival schools have to move indoors during snow season.
“A huge piece for us is having that weather in general and being able to play outside year round,” Levy said.
The Gators train outside year-round, an element critical to building their endurance.
“When they come down to play us, they're not used to this heat,” Pavinelli said.
UF women’s lacrosse is equipped to play in any weather — cold weather included.
“I think it plays to our advantage because we grew up doing that,” Reznick said. “You play in the rain, you play in the snow, you play when it's freezing.”
Gators lacrosse opened the 2023 season Feb. 12 against Michigan at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
Contact Kate Wiggins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katewigginz.
Kate Wiggins is a second-year advertising major and women's lacrosse reporter for The Alligator. Catch her pumping iron at Southwest Rec, double-scooting her friends to class, or dancing around at the nearest EDM concert.