After a convincing 16-7 win over George Mason at home on Saturday, the No. 2 Maryland women’s lacrosse team heads to Gainesville, Florida, to face off with the Florida Gators in an early season top-five matchup.
Last season, the two programs also came together for Maryland’s second game of the season, which ended with the Terrapins narrowly taking a 16-14 victory back to College Park. The Gators scored the final five goals, while Maryland went scoreless for the final 16:37.
The Terrapins will spend the weekend in Florida to practice in the warm weather, as the team has over a week to prepare for a home matchup against another top-five opponent in North Carolina.
No. 4 Florida Gators (1-0)
2018 record: 17-4, 9-0 Big East
Head coach Amanda O’Leary. After playing her college lacrosse at Temple, O’Leary joined Maryland as a graduate assistant in 1990, and later as an assistant coach in 1992-93. She then spent 14 years at Yale as head coach before taking the job at Florida to get their lacrosse program up and running. The program’s first recruiting class (2009-10) was rated No. 1 in the nation, setting a strong foundation early.
In her nine seasons, the Gators have reached eight NCAA Tournaments, with the one exception being the program’s first season in 2010. O’Leary certainly has built an amazing program thanks to ties up north, and having the facilities/climate as a recruiting advantage. The Gators and Terrapins have scheduled each other for the last four seasons, but O’Leary and her team has yet to come out on top.
Players to know
Senior attack Lindsey Ronbeck (No. 14). Ronbeck sits fourth all-time in goals at Florida after finishing last season with 65 goals and 81 points, proving to still be one of the best attackers in women’s lacrosse. The three-time First Team All-Big East selection had a hat trick against the Terrapins in 2018, and started 2019 with four goals against Colorado. Maryland will have its hands full on defense, but the experience in the close matchup last year and growth overall should pay dividends this time around.
Senior midfielder Sydney Pirreca (No. 44). The 2018 Big East Midfielder of the Year had a huge game against Maryland last season, scoring six goals, including three of the last five during the Gators’ push at the end. She ended the year with 53 goals and 15 assists. To start the 2019 season, Colorado was able to hold her to just one goal and one assist.
Sophomore midfielder Shannon Kavanagh (No. 17). Kavanagh was named the 2018 Big East Freshman of the Year after 36 goals and 28 assists during last seasons campaign. To start 2019, she was able to pick up the slack from Pirreca being locked down, scoring five goals and assisting two others. In last season’s matchup, Maryland held Kavanagh to just one goal. A repeat defensive performance will be needed to further shut down the gator offense.
Senior goalkeeper Haley Hicklen (No. 29). The Towson, Maryland, native is the third-winningest goalkeeper in the Flordia program’s young history, posting a record of 36-8 in three seasons. As a starter in 2017 and 2018, Hicklen was named Big East Goalkeeper of the Year each season, and even was named to the Tewaaraton top-25 list last year. With a career goals-against average of under nine goals, and a save percentage of almost 50 percent, Maryland’s offense will need to shoot the ball more effectively in this matchup.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland improve its draw controls from the last meeting? “Coming off of last year’s game, I know we need to do better on the draw,” head coach Cathy Reese said ahead of this matchup. Last time out, the Gators held a 19-14 draw advantage against Maryland, and posted a draw control percentage of over 53 percent last season overall. “We know Florida is going to come out fast, aggressive and physical,” senior defender Julia Braig said, “so it’s definitely something we work on leading up to the game.”
2. Does familiarity give the Terrapins an advantage? Florida has 12 players on their roster from the state of Maryland, including Caroline May, the sister of Maryland sophomore Catie May. “We’ve recruited a lot of those players, some of them are really good friends with some of our girls,” said Reese, “We know a lot of their players, we know they’re gonna play hard and they’ll be a really good early-season challenge for us.”
3. Can Maryland shoot more efficiently? Against George Mason, the Terrapins took 41 shots, 29 of which were on target, and scored just 16 goals off those attempts. Cathy Reese simply put it: “We need to shoot better.” Maryland converted 43.8 percent of its shots into goals last year and put 72.5 percent of attempts on goal. Those numbers were down to 39 percent and 70.7 percent, respectively, but they’ll need to be higher against a top-notch Florida team.