Florida returns after an 11-month forced hiatus to battle the Louisville Cardinals.

Photo by Benjamin Fox / ChompTalk.com

The time is finally here.

The No. 8 Gators Lacrosse team make their 2021 debut as they face off against the unranked Cardinals in Louisville on Saturday.

The last time Florida properly hit the grass was last March against Navy, almost two months before the scheduled 2020 American Athletic Conference Championship.

Last season’s success makes up for its rather tumultuous and unconventional ending, however.

In the eight games played, the Gators racked up a .75 win percentage and ranked No. 1 in their conference and No. 10 in the nation. They beat then-top 3 teams Maryland (No. 1) and Stony brook (No. 3).

Redshirt senior attacker Brianna Harris led the team in points at 42 (27 G, 15 A) and senior midfielder Shannon Kavanagh led in goals at 34.

The team lost only to Loyola and Dartmouth.

The 2021 season is set to have a strong ending, too.

This is Florida’s third season in the AAC and they’re dominating the pre-season charts.

The Gators ranked No. 1 in the AAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll with five of six first-place votes and topped the All-AAC player list with six Gators nominated: senior defender Kaitlyn Dabkowski, Harris, senior attacker Grace Haus, Kavanagh, redshirt sophomore goalie Sarah Reznick and fifth year defender Cara Trombetta.

Cincinnati, Temple and Vanderbilt followed behind with four players each.

Florida’s captains for the season are Kavanagh, Harris, Dabkowski and Trombetta. They’ll be leading 35 players, ten of which are freshman.

The Gator’s have a promising future but —as with every team— have room for improvement.

The Gators stomped the competition last season in total goals: 108 to a collective 89 on the opponent’s side, but the large margin didn’t seem to repeat across scoring stats.

Florida only led their collective opponents in assists, shots, shot percentage and shots on goal by an inch.

This season they have five freshmen on midfield and three on the attack, which should help polish it up.

Still, the pressure is on for Florida.

The game on Saturday versing the Cardinals will be the first in program history and will make for one of eight straight games on the road. Florida returns to Dizney Stadium on March 26 against Cincinnati.

The lack of home advantage may hurt their already vulnerable motivation upset by COVID-19.

Amid the pandemic, team bonding events are few and far between, practices have to follow strict protocols and the vibrant energy from fans will be inconsistent.

The season will have distinctive hardships, but the Gators have proved themselves able to transcend the limits and come out victorious.

The Louisville game begins at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and can be watched live on the ACC network on ESPN.

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