ronbeck

Attacker Lindsey Ronbeck (pictured) and Goalkeeper Haley Hicklen have earned American Athletic Conference weekly honors twice.

It’s no secret that the University of Florida has a top-notch athletics department, and the Gator Nation is one of collegiate sports’ most extensive fan bases.

Yes, UF is best known for its football program. It’s basketball team and 2017 National Champion baseball club also draw a lot of attention, and for good reason.

But the women’s programs don’t get as much attention as they deserve. Florida has some of the top women’s teams in the country, and they draw a small fraction of the crowds that the men’s teams draw.

The Gators gymnastics team routinely attracts thousands of fans. No. 3 Florida averages 8,715 attendees at its home meets in 2019, and this is nothing new. It’s a fixture in the NCAA finals every spring, including its three-peat as national champions from 2013-15.

But other women’s programs, like softball, lacrosse  and even basketball, deserve more attention, especially from the UF student body.

The new and improved Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium is quite a spectacle. The No. 3 Gators have played eight home games (if you include the home-opening exhibition against Japan), and the biggest crowd they’ve drawn was 2,175 from Saturday.

That’s not a bad showing, but the attendees mostly weren't students (don’t worry, I saw you, Kyle Trask).

The softball team has a consistent following of season-ticket holders, and it benefitted on Saturday and Sunday from a high school softball tournament hosted in Gainesville.

This team is exciting to watch. It cracks more than one home run a game, and there arguably isn’t a better pitcher in the country than Kelly Barnhill. The senior has won SEC Pitcher of the Week three times since the season started on Feb. 8.

The No. 13 lacrosse team isn’t far behind in terms of star power.

Goalkeeper Haley Hicklen and attacker Lindsey Ronbeck have twice earned American Athletic Conference weekly honors.

The Gators have a loaded non-conference schedule. Their home opener was a date with No. 2 Maryland on Valentine’s Day, a matchup that deserved a little more than 574 fans. And that was a top-10 matchup at the time.

UF has four more matchups against top-20 opponents, three of which are at home (No. 4 Syracuse on March 13, No. 3 North Carolina on March 16 and No. 15 Princeton on March 19). It needs a more significant home-field advantage in those matchups.

The women’s basketball team (6-21) isn’t riddled with top players like the softball and lacrosse squads. Yes, it’s difficult for fans, especially students, to get behind a losing club. But this is a developing team that plays decent basketball at home.

It drew its second-largest home crowd (2,218) in its upset win over Missouri, and it holds a 6-8 record in the O’Connell Center.

The Gators host Georgia, a mid-tier conference opponent, in their last home contest on Thursday. With its final game against last-place Vanderbilt to conclude the season, a win against the Bulldogs can give UF some momentum heading into the SEC Tournament. A crowd rivaling the showing against Missouri can help fuel that momentum.

So, next time you’re planning on going to a baseball game over the weekend, maybe catch the softball game beforehand. The next time you’re not doing anything on a Saturday afternoon, hit up the lacrosse game.

You’ll never know how much you’ll enjoy it, and these teams will probably have you coming back for more.

Mark Stine is assistant sports editor of the Alligator. Follow him on Twitter @mstinejr or contact him at [email protected].

Mark Stine is sports editor for the Independent Florida Alligator. He's a senior at UF and has written softball, women's soccer, men's tennis and cross country in the past.