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Gators junior Shannon Gilroy is a vital part of "Phase 2" for UF's lacrosse program.

Tuesday February 11, 2014Phase 2 is Underway for Gators Lacrosse Program

Gators junior Shannon Gilroy is a vital part of "Phase 2" for UF's lacrosse program.

By Michelle Provenzano Writing Intern

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In its first four years of existence, the Florida lacrosse program has exceeded any new-program-on-the-block expectations.

Two NCAA quarterfinal appearances, one NCAA semifinal appearance and an impressive 40-3 all-time home record, and the Gators have already made a name for themselves in college lacrosse.

But with time comes change.

As the UF program enters its fifth season, the Gators are heading into what they call “Phase 2.”

The inaugural class has moved on -- with the exception of redshirt senior goalkeeper Cara Canington.

Saying goodbye to the core of the program’s genesis meant bringing in a plethora of fresh faces -- 11 to be exact.

“It’s definitely a big loss to lose big names like Kitty [Cullen] and Sam [Farrell], and we miss them terribly,” Canington said. “But I think it’s forcing us to step up. We’re super athletic, so we’re ready to fill those holes.”

As Florida begins a stint of home matches with Jacksonville University in the home opener Wednesday night, the Gators are hoping to maintain the same chemistry on the field the inaugural class exhibited the past four seasons.

Jacksonville has been a staple on the Gators’ schedule.

“It’s a good rivalry, a little in-state rivalry action,” Canington said. “We’re just really excited to get back out there and prove that we can play.”

Florida opened its season on the road Saturday against No. 1-ranked and defending national champion North Carolina.

The result was harsh, a 20-8 loss to the Tar Heels.

But to the young team, with only six upperclassmen on the roster, it was a lesson learned on how high the bar needs to be set every time the Gators step onto the field.

“It should be motivation for us to come out and just work even harder in practice,” Canington said. “To understand that there are going to be tough teams, and that we need to match that.”

Despite the 12-goal loss, a few Gators responded to make the best of a less-than-ideal season opener.

Canington recorded 13 saves -- one short of her career high. Junior Shannon Gilroy had a big day, scoring four goals en route to notching the 100th goal of her career.

But maybe the biggest highlight was freshman Sammi Burgess showing why Florida’s newcomers are expected to keep the program going strong. Burgess grabbed the first goal for the Gators and tallied two assists in her debut.

Amanda O'Leary

“For her to come up with that first goal was huge,” Florida coach Amanda O’Leary (photo) said. “I think it gave a lot of the others confidence.”

That confidence comes with a give-and-take relationship.

The veterans push the level of competition in practice, and the newcomers work to push their lacrosse IQ to new heights.

“The opportunity to play here is unbelievable because you’re learning from amazing coaches and amazing players, who have already been here,” freshman Hannah Burnett said. “They just show you the ropes.

“If we stay together as a team, then anything is possible.”

Those nuggets of leadership play a huge role in getting the underclassmen ready for every challenge.

Next up is responding to a loss.

“We have a lot of potential,” senior defender Krista Grabher said. “[The freshmen] are ready to learn and want to improve.

“I think they’re going to buy into what we have here. Once they’re fully committed, we’ll be a cohesive unit.”

The commitment is just the first step in the learning process, but in the big picture it is the main component on achieving the end result.

O’Leary described that end result perfectly: “We’re out there to win games. Is it a learning curve? Absolutely. We just expect that learning curve to be faster for these kids.”

O’Leary knows what she has lost from Phase 1, but her confidence in the program hasn’t dwindled.

“That group we had, had been together for four years,” O’Leary said. “They knew what each other were going to do probably more than I did. They played off of each other, and they were very successful.

“We need time. We have to present [the freshmen] with a game plan that’s going to work.”

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