April 17, 2013

Men of Kitty's Korner Set for Senior Farewell

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

The four members of Kitty's Korner, holding their trademark oversized picture of Gators attacker Kitty Cullen, are a staple of Florida women's lacrosse home and away games. Seth O'Brien, Larry Delaney, Kyle Gooding and Adam Janik will be among those to send out a group of 12 Florida seniors when they play defending champ Northwestern on Senior Day on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.
© Lee Weissman

The 12 Florida seniors who will play in their final home game at Dizney Stadium against Northwestern on Saturday arrived in Gainesville as highly-touted recruits who were preordained to shake up the lacrosse world. The four men of Kitty's Korner, a quartet of Gator women's lacrosse superfans, had a more prosaic introduction to the venue.

Seth O'Brien, Larry Delaney, Kyle Gooding and Adam Janik are members of the Rowdy Reptiles, the official student group of Florida athletics. They decided to attend the Gators' January 2010 preseason lacrosse game versus the English national team as a way to accrue Rowdy Points, a rewards system by which student fans can win various prizes by attending NCAA events.

"Most of us have gone to every single sport event here — football, men's basketball, women's basketball, golf," Janik said. "We showed up at lacrosse having high expectations."

They were pleasantly surprised by how much they liked the game, in which Florida defeated the English 17-8. The subdued crowd, however, was not typical for Gainesville.

"We weren't sure if we could yell, or if it was a quiet sport, like golf and tennis," Delaney said.

The four friends decided that the Gators deserved better. They returned to the next game with posters and banners. They dubbed themselves Kitty's Korner, after attacker Kitty Cullen, who was at the time Florida's leading scorer.

"The fans were a lot quieter than most Gator sports and we wanted to bring that rowdy atmosphere to Florida lacrosse as well. So then we just started going to every game and coming up with changes and cheers and trying to get everyone to have a good time," O'Brien said.

Kitty's Korner has since become an indelible part of the Florida lacrosse experience.

"They are literally a part of our team," Florida coach Mandee O'Leary said. "I couldn't imagine a game going by without seeing them in the stands."

Kitty's Korner's chants, their blue-and-orange costumes and their enormous oversized picture of Cullen's head, are at every game. They've helped to give the Gators a solid home field advantage. Since the founding of Kitty's Korner, Florida is 50-4 at home. The Gators are currently 8-0 at home this season.

"They originally had no affiliation to us, didn't know anyone on the team. But they said, 'Let's just check out lacrosse,' and they thought it was absolutely awesome," senior defender Sam Farrell said. "They have fatheads. They wear wigs. They paint their bodies."

Kitty's Korner can't take credit for all the Gators' success, though. Florida traditionally draws large attendance numbers across all sports, thanks to rabid local support for the state flagship university. In 2012, Florida's average home game attendance for women's lacrosse was 670, an impressive number for a team that was only three years old, and is not located in a lacrosse hotbed. In 2013, the Gators have averaged 493 fans per home game. They are expecting a huge turnout for Saturday's matchup against the fourth-ranked Wildcats, which will also be Senior Day. The third-ranked Gators bring in a 15-1 record.

"I'm sure we'll have so, so many fans," Farrell said. "It will definitely be emotional, but everyone will be able to tame that emotion until after the game."

"They are literally a part of our team. I couldn't imagine a game going by without seeing them in the stands."

— Florida coach Mandee O'Leary

All of the members of Kitty's Korner are originally from Florida, and none of them played lacrosse growing up. The fan experience is their sole connection to the game, and it has been a great one.

"I really, really wish we would have started our freshman year," O'Brien said. "Honestly, it's been the best decision I've ever made in college to support this team and start being a crazy fan."

Kitty's Korner travels, too. O'Brien, Delaney and Gooding traveled to Stony Brook for last year's final four and witnessed the Gators' heartbreaking overtime loss to Syracuse in the semifinals. The entire quartet was also there for Florida's rematch with the Orange on March 2 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, where the Gators won 14-11.

They drove five hours from Gainesville to Miami and wore suits and ties to the game as a goof on Syracuse coach Gary Gait. (Gait, who dons a suit and tie for the Orange's games, is the only NCAA lacrosse coach who favors business wear on game day. Most coaches, male and female, wear some variation on khaki pants and team polos.) They screamed themselves hoarse cheering their team to victory.

"After that Miami game, I literally could not talk for three days afterwards. My parents thought there was something wrong with me," Gooding said.

Their favorite road trip was for the season-opener when they drove through the night to Chapel Hill to watch the Gators play North Carolina.

"We left Gainesville at 10 p.m. on a Friday and got to UNC at six or seven in the morning, so we were just jamming out in the car, music all the way up and lots of coffee and energy drinks, and sleeping in the parking lot of a Starbucks once we got there," Gooding said. "The trips have been really great."

When they arrived at Fetzer Field hours before game time, they were graciously welcomed (and fed) by North Carolina fans that were tailgating. The Gators won 5-3, defeating the Tar Heels for the first time in program history.

"When you have those types of fans who are that devoted, it makes all the difference in the world," O'Leary said.

Florida will need the full force of its fandom to defeat the defending national champs on Saturday. The Gators beat the Wildcats twice last season, but Northwestern has proved its mettle several times over this year, defeating top contenders like Syracuse and Duke en route to a 13-1 record. Northwestern's sole loss was to North Carolina on Feb. 22.

Jack Cullen, father of Kitty Cullen, was the first Florida parent to introduce himself to Kitty's Korner and invite them to the team's post-game tailgate. The closeness of the lacrosse community was a large part of why Kitty's Korner has survived and thrived.

"They're fast-paced, and they run a lot and score a lot. But the best part about lacrosse is because it was a smaller sport, we were able to develop relationships with the parents and players as well," O'Brien said. "It's like family and they took us in and embraced us. That, to me, is the best part. If they didn't embrace us, it might not be as crazy as it is now."

Those tailgates might just be the key to the future of Kitty's Korner. With all four founding members set to graduate, they are hoping that Janik's brother Sean, a Florida sophomore, will take up the banner.

"If there's free food involved, and you give free food to any college student, you'll get them to go," Janik said.

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