Second-Half Tenacity Fueling Turnaround for Florida

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER


When Florida took down former No. 5 Syracuse on March 16, the energy in Donald R. Dizney Stadium was palpable. The Gators exploded off the sidelines, embraced on the field and took in the glowing, orange fireworks overhead.

“That was one of the highlights of my two years here so far,” sophomore attacker Maggi Hall said. “We were just such a team, and we worked so hard. It just felt so good that all of our hard work over the past year paid off with that big win.”

The victory marked a turning point for Florida, which entered the game 2-4. Now, with dynamic wins over Syracuse, Drexel and Stetson behind them, the Gators sit at 5-4 on the season and are up to No. 7 in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Top 20.

“We had some growing to do,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “Just learning each others’ strengths or weaknesses, what they like to do, what they don’t like to do, just really bonding on the field. It all has come together.”

This growth has been especially important for Florida’s young attack. Three sophomores — Hall, Danielle Pavinelli and Ashley Gonzalez — and freshman Emma LoPinto start on offense for the Gators. The four have combined for 77 of Florida’s 120 goals this season and have keyed many of the team’s wins, including Hall’s six goals against Drexel and Pavinelli’s four goals against the Orange.

It’s been a period of “ups and downs,” Hall said. She, Pavinelli and Gonzalez worked with long-time program leaders Shannon Kavanagh and Brianna Harris during Florida’s 2021 campaign, which Hall said helped the trio improve heading into their sophomore season. The coaching staff has been helpful as well, she said, providing notes and helping the young attack adjust.







Building strong relationships with Pavinelli, Gonzalez and LoPinto off the field has also been vital in creating chemistry and trust on the field, Hall said.

“We committed together, we’ve become close friends and it translates onto the field,” Hall said. “We know each other, we communicate well and we know each other’s strengths, like who’s a good cutter, who’s a good feeder and who’s a good 1-v-1 driver.”

The attack’s growth, cohesion and depth have certainly been important in the Gators’ three straight wins. Florida fell apart in the second half during several early games this season, including getting outscored 9-2 by Maryland and being unable to keep pace with Loyola en route to a 12-9 loss.

But the Gators have shown tenacity during the final 30 minutes of their past three matchups. Florida successfully fended off a would-be Syracuse comeback despite getting outscored 5-4 in the second half, tallied the final two goals against Drexel to ensure a narrow 10-9 victory and dominated Stetson in the final half to hold on for victory.

Hall said regaining momentum and staying calm have been key to the Gators’ success during close games, proving especially important during the team’s comeback against Drexel.

“At the end of the game, we were not panicked,” Hall said. “We kept our patience, but when we scored in the last minute of the game, our energy came back and that’s how we scored that final game-winning goal.”

O’Leary said she’s also been especially excited about the attack’s unselfish play this season. The Gators have prioritized scoring assisted goals, which has been successful “almost to a fault,” she said.

When reviewing film from their victory against Syracuse, O’Leary took note of a mishap during the game where LoPinto had a 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper but passed the ball off to an unexpecting Hall instead. While imperfect, the situation showcased both the depth and altruistic nature of the Gators’ attack — two components that have helped the unit evolve and improve this season.

“That’s a reflection of how selfless this offense is and how it’s not a matter of one person,” O’Leary said. “At any given point in a game, anybody can step up, where, in past years, we’ve had some go-to players. I feel this team is so unselfish, and at the same time, really talented.”

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