Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 10 Florida (Women)
Shannon Gilroy led Florida in goals (74), assists (24), points (98), shots (146), draw controls (79) and caused turnovers (22). She's gone, but Florida has the talent to turn the page with 10 returning starters.
Mollie Stevens had 43 goals for the Gators last season to highlight the returners and a freshman class that includes U.S. U19 star Lindsey Ronbeck has Florida looking to compete for a championship this season.
Florida at a Glance
2015 Record: 15-6
3 Big Things
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
The Gators’ defense has been up and down over the past couple years, but in 2015, they made progress. It might have something to do with their goalies’ improvement, which is expected to continue this spring. Starting goalie Mary Sean Wilcox returns after posting a 40.9 save percentage. “When you have someone who is a returning starter in the goal cage, it’s so important,” O’Leary said. “She … had the best fall of her career. I’ve seen incredible growth from our goalkeepers across the board. If you were to say which position do you feel most confident in, it’s certainly the goalkeeper.”
1. Gilroy is not replaceable.
Two-time Tewaaraton finalist Shannon Gilroy graduated as one of the most decorated players in NCAA history. In 2015, she led the Gators with 98 points, 79 draw controls and 22 caused turnovers. The next-best attacker tallied 30-plus fewer points than Gilroy generated. “Obviously, when you lose a Tewaaraton finalist, it will set you back,” O’Leary said. “She is one of our legends of Florida lacrosse. … I don’t think we’re looking to replace her because that’s an impossible task.” The goal moving forward is to find players to step up both on the draw and on offense — namely Taylor Bresnahan and Mollie Stevens. Both veterans can help chip away at the numbers Gilroy posted for draw controls and goals, respectively. “Our team, they understand the impact that Shannon had and now someone will have to make up for [it],” O’Leary said.
2. Florida needs to be more consistent.
When the Gators joined the Big East in 2015, they were walking into an already inconsistent conference with five different champions in its eight-year history. While they did win the Big East crown, their play also was very inconsistent. In between losses to North Carolina that bookended their season, Florida fell to Syracuse (in overtime), Maryland, Stony Brook and Big East foe UConn, the latter most unexpectedly. “We lost some one-goal games that we would love to have back this year if there were do-overs. But that’s competition. That’s why you play the game,” O’Leary said. “This year, I don’t think, at this point, we have those players, like a Shannon, and everyone knows who Shannon Gilroy is. She was a brand name. This year, we go into it having a group of hardworking players. We obviously just need to be more consistent.”
3. While Gilroy is gone, the Gators’ midfield speed is still lethal.
Gilroy was the face of Florida lacrosse. On paper, she posted tangible results. But what’s missing from the stat sheet is her speed, a trait several current Florida midfielders can match. “We go fast,” O’Leary said. “We’re more of a run-and-gun, up-and-down kind of team. That has always been our philosophy and that will stay true to us this year.” Redshirt senior Nicole Graziano and freshman Sydney Pirreca both can transition the ball throughout the midfield.
* returning starters
The recent addition to the U.S. training roster was second behind Gilroy with 52 points and should take the reins offensively in 2016. She also tallied 22 ground balls, 19 draw controls and 12 caused turnovers. “She was an integral part of our offense,” O’Leary said. “She has as much of a chance as anybody. She’s very good inside and can dodge from the top, so I think she has a lot of talent that she can exploit defenses.”
The U.S. U19 silver medalist, who was named to the All-World Team in Scotland, scored a team-high five goals against the U.S. senior women’s team in the fall. She is expected to add some life to the offense, especially with Gilroy’s graduation. "Lindsay's just lights out," O'Leary said.
Starting all but one game, Ross flew under the radar in 2015 with 25 points and 20 ground balls. Yet she should get her time to shine this spring. “She’s not going to be the flashy player, she’s not going be the jaw-dropping shot, but she’s going to make the decisions to be consistent with what she can do,” O’Leary said. “She’s really come into her own and taken a lot of ownership offensively this fall. She’s that player that will surprise a lot of people.”
Freshman midfielder Sydney Pirreca will team with Lindsey Ronbeck to give Florida one of the top rookie classes in the nation. (Scott McCall)
Biggest Question Mark
Midfielders Shannon Gilroy and Nora Barry were the only starters to graduate, but their leadership was undeniable. When Florida needed it most, they came up with clutch performances, working together as a dynamic duo. “When the game was on the line, Nora and Shannon were the two we’d like to have the ball in their sticks,” O’Leary said. “The unknown is who’s going to be that person to take the ownership when we need a goal?
What rival coaches say about the Gators
"Was a constant underachiever as a favorite. How do they do as the underdog now? Young players move into bigger roles with graduation of Shannon Gilroy, veteran goalkeeper with Mary Sean Willcox and top incoming class. Need new go-to draw girl with graduation of Shannon Gilroy. Fast and motivated."
"The Gators return nearly everybody from one of the youngest teams in the country last season but the question is how do you replace Shannon Gilroy?"
"They’re going to be a different team. Other people figure out that a good program has other players ready to step up. Gilroy was a tremendously accomplished player, but she was a big part of their personnel offensively. She was the straw that stirred their drink. They’ll find an offensive identity. They have so many talented players that I don’t think it will take them very long."
"With a roster of experienced returning talent mixed in with exciting newcomers, Florida will capitalize on their speed and athleticism to make another run at the National Championship."
"With the graduation of Gilroy last season, the Gators will likely take some time to figure out how to fill such a big hole and replace her presence on the field."
Player remaining from Florida’s 2012 NCAA final four squad – redshirt senior Nicole Graziano. Despite losing Gilroy, the Gators have real aspirations to make it back to the final four this year. Can Graziano help make it happen?
April 24 vs. Connecticut
UConn was the only conference rival to beat Florida during the regular season. While the Huskies failed to repeat the win in the Big East tournament (a 20-6 Florida win), that one-goal upset, which was also the last game on Florida’s 2015 regular season schedule, will resonate with the returning Huskies. If the Gators don’t remain consistent, this game could determine seeding in the Big East tournament.
Assistants Crysti Foote (Notre Dame ’06) and Becca Block (Syracuse ’13) enter their first season with Florida. Both will bring new offensive and defensive strategies into the mix, respectively. “We have some new schemes and new tricks in our bag,” O’Leary said.
Florida remains in the conversation for a national championship, but how will the new-look team fare without its brand-name player in Tewaaraton finalist Shannon Gilroy?
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