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Krista Grabher is one of two seniors -- goalkeeper Cara Canington the other -- set to play their final home game Sunday.

Friday April 11, 2014New Faces, Old Results for Gators Lacrosse Team; UF Leads ALC Entering Home Finale

Krista Grabher is one of two seniors -- goalkeeper Cara Canington the other -- set to play their final home game Sunday.

VIDEO: A look at fifth-year senior Cara Canington, final member of UF's inaugural team.

By Michelle Provenzano Writing Intern

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Senior Krista Grabher took a risk coming to the University of Florida.

In 2010 the Florida lacrosse program was about ready to kick off its inaugural season with a roster of 29 players, all of whom saw a bright opportunity as a member of UF’s inaugural team.

Grabher followed the program’s first season from afar, finishing her senior year at Vero Beach High. She committed to the Gators before a single footstep on the fresh turf at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

Flash forward nearly five years later, and all but one of those 29 pioneers – fifth-year senior goalkeeper Cara Canington -- are gone, leaving a lasting mark of 63 wins and only 18 losses in the program’s first four years.

Gators lacrosse team

With the 2014 regular season just two games short of being completed, Grabher is near her final days on the college field full of great memories and lots of success.

“It’s surreal,” Grabher said Thursday. “I’ve kind of taken other games for granted, and now every time I step on the field I realize this is my last-for-sure home game.

“Everything just matters so much more. I think that my other teammates see that too, and it’s something that drives them as well.”

With this year’s team driven by 22 underclassmen and only six upperclassmen, the pressure to enter “Phase Two” ready and willing to compete was heightened with so few experienced leaders to act as a guide.

The culture shift took time to adjust to for those left behind after the departure of the first senior class in the program’s history a year ago.

“Being under [the 2013 class], you kind of felt like they were in charge of everything, and everything was in their control,” Grabher said. “Now, there is a lot more pressure, and everyone — including the younger, freshmen class — has to step up.

“Everyone has to be accountable. It’s not like that big pack of leading seniors.”

The lack of seniority hasn’t impacted the standings. The Gators are 13-2 entering their match against Vanderbilt on Sunday at Dizney Stadium. The young UF team seeks to keep the momentum alive and maintain their grip on first place in the American Lacrosse Conference standings.

But it may be a hard-fought battle.

In four matches this season, the Gators have won by four points or less — three of those being in the last four outings.

“We’re really focusing on the areas we need to improve because our last few games were a little closer than we would have liked,” Grabher said.

Amanda O'Leary

Coach Amanda O’Leary added: “Our games against Vanderbilt have always have been competitive. They are certainly a team that plays very hard. They have a great offensive team, and they’re very good defensively. They’re young like us, so it’ll be two young teams going at it.”

This year’s Commodores team features 18 underclassmen, and a less-than-noteworthy 4-9 record. Although history shows Florida beating Vanderbilt 3-2 in the overall series, both losses came during the 2010 season.

But if the fresh faces have proven anything this season, it’s about exceeding expectations.

“I think there were a lot of people out there that didn’t have as much faith in us, as we had in ourselves,” O’Leary said. “I think they kind of wrote us off a little bit because we did graduate such a big class, and obviously a very good class.

“But I think this team came in, and they had something to prove. And they did. They worked really hard, and their team chemistry is tremendous. I couldn’t be more proud of how well they’ve adapted and gone out every game just giving us 100 percent.”

Freshman defender Caroline Fitzgerald is one of the notables, as this week’s the ALC Rookie of the Week — the second time she has grabbed the honor. And freshman attacker Sammi Burgess has also grabbed ALC rookie honors twice.

Granted, these are just two of the freshmen who have stepped up for the Gators, but their impact has been great. The pair of newcomers has combined to score 68 goals this season.

“Age really doesn’t matter as long as you play with confidence,” Burgess said. “We play with a lot of heart. We don’t really give up even when it gets a little tough in the games. I think that’s a huge thing for such a young team.”

Grabher added: “They’re confident out there, and that is exactly what we need. We don’t need timid players if we want to be able to win games.”

With “Phase Two” seeing off Grabher and goalkeeper Canington at season’s end, the Gators’ last home match is a day to reflect on how far the program has come in such a short amount of time.

“It has been a really good mark,” Grabher said. “It’s going to continue for the next four years, until there is another big flush in.

“But this is a really solid and special team.”

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