Florida Lacrosse Already a Powerhouse

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley addressed the lacrosse team at its dinner on Tuesday with a message of appreciation. Foley once spent time helping head coach Amanda O'Leary recruit and sell a vision of Florida lacrosse to elite girls from across the country. As they open the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed this Saturday, the program is already viewed as a national powerhouse.

"We had nothing to show them—no tradition, no field—we had nothing," O'Leary remembered about recruiting the players on the current team. "They had to believe in what we were going to provide them. After the ALC Championship, I was speaking to a lot of parents that all said, "Jeremy Foley definitely delivered."

The first lacrosse recruiting class in program history committed to head coach Amanda O'Leary without a field or complex to show off, and O'Leary was the only coach on staff. There was uncertainty around the program, but at the head of it, Foley and O'Leary asked for trust.

The recruits didn't think that was too much to ask.

Multiple players chose Florida over strong lacrosse programs like Maryland, North Carolina and Johns Hopkins. They picked risk and upside over a sure thing, and it paid off.

"We didn't really know anything," said junior Sam Farrell, a member of the first recruiting class and current anchor of the Florida defense. "Amanda was the only coach when we got recruited. We didn't have any field or know anything about the program.

"They all told us to trust them and that we will be one of the top teams quickly. I guess we just all trusted them, and I'm really happy that I made that decision."

For the first two seasons, the lacrosse program at Florida was seen as an upstart group with a bright future. Currently in its third season, that title has changed into a national championship contender.

The Gators earned the program's first No. 1 ranking in the polls that came out on Tuesday, becoming the quickest team at Florida to earn a top ranking.

"I think we've made a statement, especially this year," O'Leary said. "With our number one ranking, I think we've put ourselves on the map."

The expectation was for the lacrosse program to improve in each of its early years, but no one expected the group to become the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this fast. Soon after taking the job as the Florida head coach, O'Leary was full of questions.

What if recruits didn't want to come to Florida? With lacrosse being mostly a northern sport, what if they didn't want to be far away from their family? What if they didn't develop when they got to campus?

Those doubts didn't take long to be erased.

The recruits lined up, seeing immediate playing time, a top-notch facility and a chance to compete at the highest level.

"Florida just has a tremendous reputation, academically and athletically," O'Leary said. "When you go into people's homes or bring people here to Florida, it sells itself. We are the best of both worlds.

"The recruiting aspect is pretty nice, considering a lot of these kids are coming from the north, so the weather certainly has been a help when you bring them in February and it's 75 and sunny, and they're flying back to the snow, rain and wind."

That home field advantage continues this Saturday, as Albany makes the trek from Stony Brook, New York to Gainesville. The high temperature in Stony Brook on Saturday is 73, but Albany will play at Florida where the high is 85 degrees.

It's step one in what the Gators hope is a long run at an NCAA Championship. However, it didn't start this season or even in offseason workouts. It began when Foley elected to start a lacrosse program and ask for trust from what turned out to be the top-ranked recruiting class in the country.

"These young women were trailblazers," O'Leary said. "They could've gone anywhere in the country, but they chose to come here and make a mark on this program. They set a standard and it's one that we're really proud of."

The risk paid off, and the veterans on the team are seeing the groundwork of a potentially dominant program.

"In a couple years, we're going to look back and realize that we helped start this program and bring it to where it is," Farrell said. "That's going to be huge."

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