Shannon Kavanagh

Shannon Kavanagh

Florida’s start to its season has all the makings of their own Groundhog Day-like story.

In 2019, it opened the season beating then-No.17 Colorado, 16-9. It beat the No.18 Buffaloes 11-10 last week.

In 2019, they faced off against then-No. 2 Maryland. They lost 17-12. Now, the No. 12-ranked Gators are traveling to College Park, Maryland, hoping to break out of their Phil Connors-type loop by beating No. 2 Maryland Saturday.

“To be the best you have to play the best,” assistant coach Taryn VanThof said. “We talk day-to-day about what we’re going to do as the Florida lacrosse brand and I think that’s exactly what we’re going to bring.”

That brand? Playing fast.

Against Colorado, Florida scored three unanswered goals within 59 seconds and repeatedly used their ability to control draws to generate momentum on offense.

“I think the draw possession would be a huge advantage in this game,” VanThof said. “I think the commitment to the 50/50 ball is something we’ve talked about and actually making sure we're getting our heads down going to the ball and coming up clean with those possessions will be huge.”

But Maryland is not ranked highly for no reason. The defending champions have a wealth of experience offensively, with their starting attackers combining for 13 of their 19 goals last Saturday against George Mason. That unit is led by senior attacker Kali Hartshorn, who has 188 career points.

They also have the home-field edge, having won their last 86 home games, the longest current home winning streak in all of DI sports.

The Gators also will need to clean up their play if they are to reverse last year’s outcome. Colorado was the beneficiary of several forced passes that caused nine of Florida’s 14 turnovers.

“That and shooting were two big things we focused on in practice,” VanThof said. “Putting the ball in the back of the net is obviously the biggest thing.”

Last week, several of UF’s freshmen dealt with pre-game jitters as they anticipated playing their first collegiate game. But that game matured them and helped forge the resilience that led to their comeback victory. Now, they’re looking to exploit it once more.

“I think just one thing that we really noticed in game one is just we're such a resilient team and we didn't give up, no matter if we got in like a two-goal hole,” said junior defender Kaitlyn Dabkowski. “We will keep fighting until the last whistle and I think that’s going to be so important just across the board this season.”

Follow Christian on Twitter @unofficialchris and contact him at [email protected].

Christian Ortega is the lacrosse beat writer for The Alligator. He previously covered recruiting and basketball for Inside the Gators and was the editor-in-chief of Miami Dade College's The Reporter.