2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 10 Florida (Women)

PHOTO BY TIM CASEY / FLORIDA ATHLETICS

Danielle Pavinelli was the AAC Freshman of the Year after starting 18 of Florida’s 21 games, recording four hat tricks and 30 goals in total.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 10 FLORIDA

2021 Record: 18-3 (10-0 AAC)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 7
Coach: Amanda O’Leary (13th season)

Amanda O’Leary says that every season is fresh and new. There’s no point in dwelling on last year’s disappointments — or even its successes — after all.

And while that perspective is one that O’Leary carries into every season, it’s especially relevant in 2022. Much of Florida’s roster, and certainly a sizable chunk of its key contributors, will be fresh and new — either to the starting lineup or the university entirely.

Because none of Florida’s stellar seniors from last spring returned as fifth-year students, there’s new blood at nearly every position on the field. Outside of Sarah Reznick, who remains one of the top goalies in the nation, even starters from last year will have expanded roles for a Gators team looking to remain in the national picture while it retools.

“We are very young,” O’Leary said. “None of those fifth-year kids came back. They all got jobs or are in graduate school. The losses are significant. When you lose that many All-Americans, it’s going to be tough.”

Still fine-tuning what its identity will look like in February when the season begins, Florida has the luxury of being able to lean on a player like Reznick. She allowed just 6.42 goals per game and stopped 56.7 percent of shots in 2021, and even though all-time program great Cara Trombetta won’t be defending the crease in front of her, there’s plenty of talent on the defensive end.

Senior Emma Wightman is “an excellent leader” for the defense, O’Leary said, and she’ll be joined by a pair of talented transfers in Leah Lingo (Virginia Tech) and Catherine Flaherty (Maryland). Both come to the swamp as immediate contributors.

“We have some very cerebral defenders who are smart back there,” said O’Leary, referencing the impact of new assistant Regy Thorpe. “It’s going to be different. I think they’re going to be multi-talented, go into a zone or play man. In the past, we’ve typically stuck with our man.”

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Boston College

2. North Carolina

3. Syracuse

4. Northwestern

5. Stony Brook

6. Maryland

7. Notre Dame

8. Duke

9. Loyola

10. Florida

11. Virginia

12. James Madison

13. Princeton

14. Stanford

15. Denver

16. Rutgers

17. Drexel

18. Jacksonville

19. UConn

20. Penn

The defense is bolstered by Emily Heller, a dynamic midfielder who O’Leary thinks is representative of a dying breed. Not only did Heller score 12 goals as a freshman — she also made an impact defensively as a “true two-way middie.”

The midfield boasts returning threats in Danielle Pavinelli and Paisley Eagan, and incoming freshman Emma LoPinto should factor into the offense right away.

“She better be starting out there, or I’m going to be a wreck,” O’Leary said, laughing when asked about her expectations for the star freshman. “She’s so fun to watch. Emma LoPinto is going to step in, and we’re going to ask a lot of her. She’s going to have to be a key figure in our attack.”

And even though she’ll be a presumed focal point, gone are the days of Florida leaning on one or two players to shoulder the scoring load. In this fresh and new era of Gators lacrosse, O’Leary wants to spread it around.

“For us, we’re not going to have that one person who’s going to have 70 goals like we did in the past. We’re not going to have Shannon Kavanagh,” O’Leary said. “But we are going to have seven, eight or nine offensive players who want to share the ball. They all have the ability to score three goals a game.”

The biggest question mark, at least one month away from the beginning of the season, is the draw. Kavanagh was a steady presence there, so there are large shoes to fill.

Winning possession will be imperative to how the Gators’ season goes, O’Leary said. In taking a look at the top contenders in the national picture, each of them has a bona fide superstar who dominates the circle.

That said, don’t count out Florida when it comes to keeping up. Fresh and new, sure, but there’s still plenty of winning tradition in Gainesville.

“This year, we can’t take anybody for granted,” she said. “In conference, out of conference, there’s just so much parity right now.”






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TOP RETURNERS

Sarah Reznick, G, R-So.

Reznick has been a highly talked about goalie for years now, but last year was her true breakout. She allowed just 6.42 goals per game, made 153 saves and stopped 56.7 percent of shots, leading the nation. A true defensive anchor, Reznick can swat away just about anything, and the Gators will go as far as she takes them.

Danielle Pavinelli, M, So.

Florida has a young team in 2022, but its top players have already been battle tested. Count Pavinelli among them. She was the AAC Freshman of the Year after starting 18 of Florida’s 21 games, recording four hat tricks and 30 goals in total. She also shot 54.5 percent (89.1 percent on goal) as she emerged as an offensive weapon. With an increased role, she’s primed for even more.

Paisley Eagan, M, R-Jr.

Florida’s bread and butter is its midfield play, and Eagan is a big part of that. She started every game last season and contributed 32 goals, six assists, 45 draw controls, 19 ground balls and three caused turnovers. She’s started all 28 games she’s played, meaning Eagan is another non-senior with valuable game experience.

KEY ADDITION

Emma LoPinto, A, Fr.

Inside Lacrosse’s No. 1 incoming attacker, expect LoPinto to carve out a role early this spring. A shifty player with a powerful shot, LoPinto starred at Manhasset (N.Y.) High School and joins another Manhasset product, Maryland transfer Madison Rielly, in the swamp. With significant chunks of last year’s product gone to graduation, LoPinto is set up for a big rookie campaign.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Ashley Gonzalez, M, So.

Gonzalez started five times with four multi-goal efforts as a freshman, and she showed flashes of what could come with more exposure to the collegiate game. Given the available playing time in the midfield, Gonzalez should play her way into a full-time role — and an important one, at that. A decorated high schooler, Gonzalez set Half Hollow Hills (N.Y.) single-season and career scoring records.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Gators:

“They’re always extremely talented and incredibly athletic. They have Regy (Thorpe) helping to coordinate for them this year and he’s a master level coach to support Mandy as a head coach. You have to really show up and really be on your A game when you compete against them.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

19.5%

UNC and Syracuse were the two best defenses last year, but third on the list was Florida. A big part of their success on defense was their ability to make opponents work for everything. On average, the Gators’ opponents didn’t take their first shot of a possession for 57 seconds. No early offense allowed in Gainesville. — Zack Capozzi

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