GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Last year at the University of Richmond, sophomore lacrosse star Gabi Wiegand destroyed St. Bonaventure by scoring a career-high seven goals from her attack position.
The school newspaper, The Collegian, named Wiegand as its “Spider of the Week,” and in a Q&A profile asked her what she hoped to accomplish during her Richmond career, both individually and from a team perspective.
Anyone who knows Wiegand wouldn’t be surprised by her shoot-for-the-stars answer.
“I would love to help carry the team to be a top-ranked team in the nation. I believe we have the skill level and we just need to put everything together. I also want to see Richmond take control of the [Atlantic] 10 conference and hold on to it for years to come. With our talent we should be able to separate ourselves from the rest of the A-10 and make a statement to the entire lacrosse community.”
Let’s just say, Wiegand attacks her personal goals like she attacks goal keepers.
“It was always one of my dreams, to play for an elite team,” said Wiegand, who as a high school senior in Bayshore, N.Y., was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. “I thought maybe I could be someone who could help Richmond get there ... but I couldn’t.”
One year later, though, her dream has makings of reality. Not that the Florida Gators, ranked No. 3 in the nation after upsetting defending NCAA champion Northwestern on the road two weekends ago, are content with just being elite. Even in just the third year of existence, the UF lacrosse program wants to be a champion.
The arrival of Wiegand can only enhance the chances.
She’ll be one of the gifted Gators wielding a wicked stick Friday when Florida (15-2) faces either Ohio State or Vanderbilt in the semifinals of the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament, which opens Thursday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. The Gators, by virtue of that win over Northwestern, are the tournament’s top seed and have a bye through the quarterfinals.
How UF fares this weekend will play a role in just how elite, as Wiegand would say, the NCAA selection committee deems the rocket-rising program from the non-traditional lacrosse state.
“We recruited her very hard out of high school and knew going in, if we got her, she would be a program-changer,” Florida coach Amanda O’Leary said, quickly correcting herself. “Or a program-maker.”
Wiegand amassed 108 points, including 82 goals, in two seasons at Richmond, garnering second-team All-Atlantic 10 honors both seasons. The Spiders, though, were stuck in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic-10, which frustrated the young standout.
Late last spring Wiegand opted to transfer from Richmond.
“She came down for a visit. She’s such a personable young lady, and so easy to talk to. Five minutes into our conversation, it was, ‘Please come to Florida’,” recalls O’Leary.
Yet it wasn’t O’Leary’s interest (or rather, pleads) that swayed Wiegand to take a chance on the Gators. The UF coach offered to help Wiegand with her search even if it wasn’t Florida.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing and she really didn’t know me that well,” Wiegand said. “For her to say she’d help me, I took that to heart. I knew this was a woman I could definitely trust, definitely play for.”
NCAA transfer rules for lacrosse allow a student-athlete to switch schools once without having to sit out a year. All Wiegand has done since dropping out of the Virginia sky is lead the team in goals with 45, to go with 13 assists (fourth on the team). Her 58 points are three behind the Gators leader, attack Ashley Bruns, and one point behind Cullen.
O’Leary is not surprised.
“Literally, when she came in -- it may have been the first practice -- we knew she was good. We had seen her play,” O’Leary said. “But that first practice, we were just all taken aback by her stick skills. Incredible.”
Then came scrimmages and game situations. The UF staff was equally floored at Wiegand’s lacrosse IQ. She was as good at thinking and anticipating the game as playing it.
And all the while with a sense of calm, especially with the ball on her stick.
“She gets it,” O’Leary said.
The Gators, in turn, got better. A lot better.
“She’s brought so much to our team,” junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell said. “We’re so lucky to have her.”
Wiegand feels pretty fortunate, too. What was that wish list from last year again?
- Wants to help carry a team to be a top-ranked team (the Gators are ranked third in the nation).
- Wants to see her team take control of its conference (the Gators are the No. 1-seed in the ALC tournament).
- Wants to separate from the rest of the conference and make a statement to the entire lacrosse community (UF already beat perennial power Northwestern, with conference and NCAA tournaments to go).
So about that dream? Can that dream come true?
“Yes. One hundred percent, yes,” Wiegand said with a huge smile. “Everyone here is so determined and really wants it. I’m so glad I made the decision to come here.”
The feeling, obviously, is mutual.