Defense Leads Lacrosse into NCAA Tournament

Florida lacrosse coach Amanda O'Leary wanted to improve her team's defense, but instead of putting in extra time pouring over game film, she made a trip to the Florida basketball facility. The man-to-man defense that Florida runs has similarities to basketball. The trips to watch practice and conversations with Billy Donovan and Amanda Butler helped produce the top lacrosse defense in the country.

"I just know that picks and screens, it's 5 v. 5—add two more in and you've got a lacrosse game," O'Leary said. "I've learned an incredible amount by watching basketball film and basketball games because a lot of the plays can transferred to the lacrosse field.

"You could basically put lacrosse on a basketball court and not see much difference. We do a lot of basketball drills. We have watched our women's basketball and men's basketball practice, trying to get some hints."

It has transferred well this season. The Gators lead the country in goals allowed at 6.53 per game. Florida allows .65 goals per game less than second place North Carolina.

It has also helped Florida to the best scoring margin (+9.42) in the country.

O'Leary is a big basketball fan that watches plenty of the sport when she is away from lacrosse. Part of that is by design to watch offensive and defensive concepts. She feels like a man-to-man defense is the best fit for her team, so they don't play much zone.

"(Butler and Donovan) were both very supportive and said anytime I want to come by and sit in practice," O'Leary said. "That's the great thing about Florida—our coaches are just so supportive of one another and if someone needs something like watching practice or helping with recruits, they're more than happy to do that. We've spent some time in that gym."

A top-ranked recruiting class and coaching has produced the top defense in college lacrosse. It doesn't provide the glamorous opportunities as the players who score more goals, but it's still an important part of the No. 1 team in the country.

"You have to be pretty humble if you're going to be a defender," O'Leary said. "You can't expect to get the headlines. It's fun because they support one another, and our offense supports them."

The selfless nature of the defense makes the defense tough, but their close nature has the unit playing its best since the group got to campus. It's the third season with largely the same group of girls.

"We have such strong chemistry," said junior Sam Farrell. "We've been together for three years, so we know we each other so well by now. That really helps with our success."

The repetition of playing with each other combines with the veterans' ability to communicate.

"It's attitude and communication," said junior Emily Dohony. "Our defensive unit has been together for three years now. Each and every one of us puts something different to our defense. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"If I make a mistake, I know they're all there to back me up. I'm not afraid to take chances because I know my teammates have my back."

Fightin Gators Top Stories