(Photo by Kevin Schoonover)
by Topher Adams
GAINESVILLE, FLa. -- College lacrosse has been back in our lives since February with the return of the NCAA men’s and women’s seasons. While the NCAA season looks alive and well -- except for the Ivies -- the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) is less certain. Lots of programs have been playing games already, but others have waited.
The wait for the Florida Gators, however, is finally over.
Before their 2020 campaign was cut short, the Gators were in the midst of a promising season, with an 8-3 record, including wins over No. 17 Virginia Tech, Auburn and Arizona, eventually reaching as high as No. 21 in the country.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and their opportunity to win their first SELC championship since 2010 was gone.
Coming into the 2021 season, Florida has had to find replacements for several key players, including 2020 leading scorer Kerry Thomas and fellow captain SSDM Hayden Parks, all while fighting the uncertainty of the season.
Despite the turbulent nature of this year, Florida is loaded and ready to compete amongst the best of the MCLA. When the Gators return to the field, here’s what to look for in ‘21.
Defense is the heart of this team and at center of it all are senior defensemen Parker Beeson and Tyler Schaffer. Both are good cover defenders who can get extremely physical and aggressive. They throw hefty stick checks and disrupt offensive possessions.
The rest of the poles follow suit, including freshman defenseman Cole Fox, who has incredible potential while already earning first-team minutes.
Close defense and LSM are probably the most talented positions on this roster, with the aforementioned three, plus senior defenseman Mike Connelly, junior LSM Ryan Stanford, and several others proving to be playmakers defensively.
Both Beeson and Connelly were also captains in 2020, returning strong vocal leadership to the group.
It should be worth noting that the other defensive specialists aren’t slouches either. SSDM Thatcher Kelly has been tough defensively and on faceoff wings throughout the fall and spring while a handful of other SSDMs or two-way guys have put in solid-shifts as well.
The goalie position is the icing on the cake, where junior Matt Corazon looks to build on a strong 2020 season (61.7 save percentage).
The offense has taken time to mesh, as you’d expect, and while they’re not as experienced as their defensive counterparts, they have loads of potential. It’s always hard to replace your top scorer, but almost all of their other offensive pieces are back, plus a handful of fresh faces.
Midfielders Nolan Testa (second on team in points last season) and Will Duryea are relentless dodgers who can create their own shot seemingly at will at times. Attack is a less certain spot, with several players all providing different elements. Junior Hunter Bitner is a smooth dodger from X who can get to the rack and sophomore Tyler Harry is a big-bodied attackman who can dodge from the wing or shoot off-ball.
Two other players to watch are sophomore attackmen Ethan Ott and Michael Fox. Both have dealt with nagging injuries throughout the spring, but when they’re fit, they can elevate this offense. Fox is the all-time leading goal scorer in Florida High School lacrosse and can get to the rack at an elite level. Ott is probably the smoothest player on the team, capable with or without the ball while also showing high level finishing.
There are currently three games on the Gators’ schedule in 2021; a trip to face future NCAA program Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, a home bout with SELC rival Georgia Tech, and a rivalry clash against Florida State in Tallahassee.
Florida has the potential to be one of the top teams in the MCLA and is among the top clubs in the SELC. If their talent can continue to meld and they get the opportunities, Florida can make noise at the MCLA Invitational and throughout the southeast in 2021 and look set to continue their rise as a program.