High Expectations, New Leadership for Florida in 2022


Danielle Pavinelli, a rising sophomore, is ready to step up in the midfield.

March 10, 2020. The then-dominant Florida women’s lacrosse team walked away with a clear-cut victory at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. The Gators seemed eager to continue their hot streak, but the coronavirus pandemic crushed any dreams of a national championship. 

Fast forward to the 2021 season, which proved anything is possible. The offensively driven Gators danced their way into the Sweet Sixteen. 

Fueled by the versatility of its senior class, the orange and blue found itself tied with Syracuse at halftime in the NCAA quarterfinals. The Gators had a score to settle. Literally. 

But Syracuse was hungry. The team bitten by injuries on the attack scored five consecutive goals to secure its ever-growing lead. Syracuse freshman Emma Ward shrugged off Florida with six assertive goals. 

Victory slipped away from the Gators, as the Orange ran off with a 17-11 win and ricocheted themselves all the way to the NCAA championship game.

Florida’s dreams fell short. Again.

Rising redshirt-junior Paisley Eagan isn’t satisfied with how last season ended. The midfielder called it was upsetting.

“I don’t think that we met our expectations at all,” Eagan said. “Now that we know what it feels like to be in that position, I know that we’re building off of that going into this year.” 

The loss left a particularly bitter taste in Eagan’s mouth. The Boston College transfer watched her former team capture its first-ever national championship title after three consecutive losses in the final. 

“Emotions were definitely high,” she said. “When we got into the second half, it’s kind of just like we lost that mojo that we had going in the first half.” 

Danielle Pavinelli had high expectations for her freshman season. She and the rest of her team had their eyes on being the last team standing. Florida wanted to beat Syracuse and solidify a spot in the Final Four, but she said the Orange wouldn't back down.

“We’ll be back next year out for revenge,” Pavinelli said. “We’re trying to get to the national championship next year and win.” 

With the 2022 season on the horizon, Amanda O’Leary’s team will be without the lauded Class of 2021 — Shannon Kavanagh, Brianna Harris, Cara Trombetta, Grace Haus, Kaitlyn Dabkowski, Kassidy Bresnahan, Annie Wright and Eddy Shoop. Each laced up at the ‘Diz one last time in 2021, and each walked across the stage at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in a cap and gown.

The squad not only loses leadership on the field, though; it loses leadership off it.

Right from the start, Pavinelli said the seniors took the underclassmen under their wings. She said they made sure everyone was comfortable, ensuring they really felt like they were a part of the team from Day 1.

“They helped us with everything that we needed, whether it was school or just learning to get around campus,” she said. “They were like older sisters to us.” 

The seniors offered ways to improve their game, rather than simply crack down on them for mistakes. The group left an indelible mark on the team. 

“They just knew how to bring everybody together on the team and bring that into game day on and off the field,” Eagan said. 

Most notably, the young Gators will be without Kavanagh. The Long Island native governed the midfield and notched 200 goals in her collegiate career — and she shattered a handful of program records. The captain leaves Gainesville with a gaping hole to fill on offense and the draw.

The absence of Kavanagh means Florida will have to adapt. For Pavinelli, it means stepping up to the plate. 

“Losing Shannon was really hard for us just because she did so much for our team,” she said. 

Kavanagh, Eagan and Pavinelli came together to form one of the most deadly midfield lines in the nation. But now the duo must learn to function without a key piece of the puzzle.

“I think the two of us work really well together,” Pavinelli said. “Without Shannon, we’re going to have another person come in, and I think our middie line will work really well together defensively and offensively.” 

Pavinelli, a rising sophomore, is the reigning AAC freshman of the year. Pavinelli appreciated the accomplishment but humbly said it adds fuel to the fire ahead of the 2022 season.

“It definitely adds pressure coming into the season,” she said. “I want to continue to grow my game and be even better and just excel my sophomore year.” 

O’Leary’s team is predominantly young and has been for the past few seasons. Pavinelli said the team is ready for a fresh start — a new team dynamic. 

“I think we’ll be able to form a nice chemistry between all of us,” she said. “We have newcomers coming in that are excellent. All the classes are pretty good.” 

Florida picked up three transfers — Madison Rielly and Catherine Flaherty from Maryland and Leigh Lingo from Virginia Tech. The group also adds seven newcomers to a roster budding with talent.

It’s safe to say that Florida is well equipped. Having the AAC Goalkeeper of the Year behind them in the cage doesn’t hurt. 

Sarah Reznick continues to shatter the glass ceiling as she treks toward being the top goalie in the nation. The Long Beach (N.Y.) product said she is staring the 2022 season in the face.

The rising redshirt-sophomore said she is someone who leads by example. Reznick and the Gators aren’t deterred by having a team that’s largely on the younger side.

“I don’t think age has really been an issue for us,” she said. “I mean, obviously it's going to be a learning process, but I think most of the girls are quick learners.”

The incoming senior class will undoubtedly lead and be mentors for the underclassmen, just like the senior class before them, Reznick said. 

The players pride themselves on their program, in every sense of the word. “Exceptional,” “competitive” and “family” were all descriptors used to describe Florida women’s lacrosse. Being a younger team won’t restrain the chomping Gators.

But one question persists.

Can a national championship be brought to Gainesville?

“I definitely think we’re capable of getting the national championship,” Pavinelli said. “It just comes down to how hard we work and how badly we want it.” 

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