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Florida women's lacrosse.

New Pass-Heavy Scheme Turns the Tide for Florida

April 13, 2024
Charlotte Varnes
John Strohsacker

When Florida was down 7-2 at halftime against Maryland on February 24, players made it clear to each other: the game was still up for grabs.

They were right. The Gators outscored the then-top five Terrapins 10-5 in the second half en route to a 13-12 overtime victory — a turning point for Florida, which started the season 0-2 and has now won 12 straight games entering Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. matchup with AAC rival James Madison.

“Going into Maryland, we were like, ‘Here we are: we’ve grown, we’re learning every day, we’re getting better every day,’” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “It paid off, those two good learning opportunities against Loyola and North Carolina — enough to come out with a win against a really good Maryland team.”

Matters could have continued to worsen after Florida started 0-2. Instead, the No. 15 Gators dug in their heels, fought their way to a 12-2 record and are now tied with No. 13 James Madison atop the conference.

Florida’s offense has emerged as a powerhouse during this stretch, leading the country with 18.57 goals and 9.43 assists per game. Weaknesses discovered during the first two contests have helped power this run.

Senior attacker Maggi Hall said they noticed they had few assists versus Loyola and North Carolina. Entering their game against Maryland, the Gators focused on ball movement and looking for feeds. They tallied five assists against the Terps — a step in the right direction after recording just three through the first two games.

Gators assistants Nicole Levy and Christina Esposito also went back to the drawing board after starting 0-2, coming up with new, movement-heavy schemes. The adjustments were geared toward the personnel they had, O’Leary said, and went well because of player buy-in.

Veteran leadership has also proved key for Florida’s offense. The Gators’ top five scorers are all upperclassmen, many of whom are in tune with each other’s tendencies. 

“Ashley Gonzalez, [Danielle Pavinelli] and I have played together for a very long time,” Hall said. “I understand like, ‘Oh, if she looks this way, she’s going to cut,’ or if Ashley has the ball down low, she’s looking for one more.”

Playing together for several years has helped the unit, O’Leary said. But their lacrosse IQ has also increased because of constantly watching film and having better vision on the field this season — exciting growth to watch, O’Leary said.

The Gators’ attack has helped power six straight wins by a double-digit margin, performances that have been helpful for the entire roster. O’Leary said the starters will kick off the big leads, then reserves will take over for the rest of the game. As a result of the big wins, reserves have seen “enormous amounts of time,” and O’Leary has already seen the improvement of depth players who will one day make a big impact on the program.

Players’ competitive spirit and drive to play their best each day have helped power these big wins, O’Leary said. She expects the same as the team readies for the end of the regular season — including Saturday’s matchup with James Madison for control of the AAC.

“They have that internal fire, they want to win, they want to go out with a bang and see where it takes us,” O’Leary said. “We have a really committed group that loves each other. They want to win for each other.”