Fall Ball Focus: Questions on Defense for Florida


Sarah Reznick is a former All-American expected of more in 2023.

Many of Florida’s stars stepped onto the field in 2022 untested.

Emma LoPinto had yet to play in a college matchup. A trio of then-sophomores — Danielle Pavinelli, Ashley Gonzalez and Maggi Hall — had only played in an adjusted 2021 season shaped by pandemic restrictions.

They left the field as four of the Gators’ top five scorers, anchoring a squad that reached the NCAA quarterfinals. And, as the fall has gone on, they’ve only gotten better

“They’re taking over and taking ownership of the offense,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “That helps us a lot in regard to having [those leaders] out there and having that confidence to call plays.”

Florida’s 2022 campaign was dominated by young stars, many of whom are returning. Additions like attacker Tayler Warehime and midfielders Emily Diaz and Madison Waters should bolster the Gators’ strong offensive unit.

Redshirt-junior goalkeeper Sarah Reznick returns as well, anchoring a defense that lost leaders in Emma Wightman, Leigh Lingo and Catherine Moriarty. The Long Island product was lights out in 2022, earning All-AAC first team honors in addition to being named the AAC Goalkeeper of the Year.

Florida has played a challenging fall ball schedule, competing against Northwestern, Colorado, Johns Hopkins and Navy. For O’Leary, the elite level of competition has been an important evaluation tool.

“When you play teams like [that], they’re going to expose all of your deficiencies,” O’Leary said. “It’s great for film — to go back and look and [find] things we need to improve on.”


The Gators kicked off 2022 with a daunting schedule, taking on North Carolina, Maryland and Stony Brook back-to-back — all resulting in losses. Conference play went better, as Florida went 5-0 before cruising to an AAC championship.

Pavinelli, LoPinto and Hall finished as the program’s top three scorers. An older, battle-tested defense was crucial as well, led by Reznick, who was surrounded by a crew of upperclassmen veterans like Wightman and Moriarty.


Who will fill starting roles on defense?

Just one defensive starter remains in Catherine Flaherty. A transfer last season from Maryland, Flaherty has quietly become one of the Gators’ strongest defensive options.

“[She] stepped in as a key defender,” O’Leary said. “She’s that leader on the defensive end besides Sarah [Reznick]. She just gets it, and she’s a competitor.”

Flaherty is just one among several options, however, as O’Leary said she has been using midfielders to fill in on defense. Redshirt-senior Paisley Eagan and senior midfielder Shelton Sawers both posted nine-plus caused turnovers and 17 ground balls in 2022. Each has strong potential to fill defensive roles.


Tayler Warehime, Emily Diaz and Madison Waters

The Gators cleaned up in the transfer portal. Warehime left for Gainesville from North Carolina, Diaz from Bryant and Waters from USC. Each brings unique, competitive play. Warehime served as a captain at UNC, Diaz set Bryant’s single-season draws record and Waters is a former Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Florida’s already-potent offensive unit is much deadlier with this trio.

“They fit in seamlessly,” O’Leary said. “Their leadership is amazing. They’re great locker room kids on and off the field.”


Sarah Reznick

Reznick is, perhaps, one of the Gators’ best-known players and has earned All-American recognition in the past. How can she be a breakout candidate?

The loss of several key defenders makes Reznick’s leadership even more crucial, and she’ll be asked to do even more and be even better this spring. O’Leary expects greater things from her defensive anchor.

“Her work ethic is second to none,” O’Leary said. “She’s one of the best goalies in the country, but she’s still going to go out and practice hard every day. … I’m proud of the leadership she provides [not only] on the defensive end, but also within the team as a whole.”


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