No. 1 Carolina Opens with Tough No. 5 Florida
It's a bluebird day for lacrosse - I'm not really talking about the temperature, since it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 degrees as I write here from my couch in Baltimore - but we've got a lot of games on the schedule, including the first Top 5 tilt from either gender as No. 1 Carolina takes on No. 5 Florida in Chapel Hill.
The game will be webcasted live (link above), so I'll be keeping up with a blog (available to the right) for fans that want to follow along, ask questions, whatever, whether you have the ability to watch along with me or just want to keep up as I blog away.
We've already been spoiled with one great game this week (Virginia's epic OT win over Loyola, which compares favorably with some of the highest-regarded contests in lacrosse history), so hopefully this one can step up to the challenge that the men's first early marquee contest laid down on Thursday evening.
I've seen the Tar Heels play once in person - taking in the first of their two scrimmages vs. Team USA in Florida at the Champion Challenge - and they looked good despite losing. They did suffer a setback, losing senior midfielder Brittany Coppa for the year to a torn ACL.
This is the season opener for both teams, with Florida looking to replace a huge chunk of talent that graduated. This one could set the tone for the women's season ahead, so follow along and see who comes out on top...
North Carolina Notes
CHAPEL HILL — Top-ranked and defending NCAA champion North Carolina will open the official defense of its national title on Saturday when it kicks off its 2014 regular season at home against No. 4 Florida. The Tar Heels and Gators will take the draw on their campaigns at noon at Fetzer Field. Saturday's matchup will mark the fourth year in a row UNC and Florida have faced each other in the first game of the season.The game will be streamed live online by GoHeels TV on GoHeels.com, the official website of Carolina athletics.
A season ago, Carolina won its first NCAA championship, beating Northwestern in the semifinals and unbeaten and top-ranked Maryland in triple overtime in the final.
Carolina returns nine starters and 24 letterwinners from last year's team, including preseason All-Americas in attacker Abbey Friend, defender Sloane Serpe and defender Margaret Corzel. Senior midfielder Brittney Coppa also was a preseason All-America choice before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee during the preseason.
The defense, long a point of pride for the Tar Heels, should be very strong once again in 2014. Sophomore goalie Megan Ward, who started the last seven games of 2013 and earned All-NCAA Tournament honors, returns in goal and will be supported by highly-touted freshman Caylee Waters. Serpe and Corzel should anchor the defense along with sophomore Mallory Frysinger and juniors Caileigh Sindall and Courtney Waite, all of whom have starting experience.
Seniors Friend and Taylor George will anchor the attack unit, along with sophomore Aly Messinger, who earned All-NCAA Tournament honors last year. The midfield is more of a question mark, given the injury to Coppa and the graduation losses of Kara Cannizzaro, Emily Garrity and Jessica Griffin.
A hotshot freshman class ranked best in the nation should supplement a strong returning cast for head coach Jenny Levy, now in her 19th season, and her staff.
Carolina leads the all-time series with Florida, 3-1. UNC won the first three meetings (in 2010, 2011 and 2012) and Florida won in 2013. Former Tar Heel All-America midfielder Erica LaGrow (UNC '08) is an assistant coach with the Gators.
The Tar Heels and Gators will be meeting in February in Chapel Hill for the fifth consecutive season. UNC and UF played for the first time on Feb. 28, 2010, prior to opening the season against each other for the last four years. The Tar Heels beat the Gators 18-5 in their first meeting in 2010, Florida's first year as a varsity program. In 2011, Carolina beat the Gators 10-9 in overtime and 11-9 in 2012.
Carolina is 14-4 all-time in season-opening games and have won seven of its last eight. The Tar Heels had won seven openers in a row before losing 5-3 to Florida last year.
UNC begins the 2014 season right where it ended the 2013 campaign: atop the national polls. The Tar Heels grabbed the No. 1 spot in both the IWLCA Coaches Poll and the Brine Media Poll for 2014. Florida is No. 4 in the media poll and No. 5 in the coaches poll.
The No. 4 Florida Gators will open their 2014 season at No. 1 North Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 8, with the opening draw set for noon.
It marks the fourth consecutive season the two teams have met for Florida's season opener. In 2013, the Gators picked up their first win in the series with a 5-3 decision.
Both teams are ranked in the top five in the media and coaches' preseason polls. The Gators are ranked No. 4 in the Inside Lacrosse/Brine media poll and No. 5 in the IWLCA poll while the Tar Heels are ranked No. 1 in both polls.
The Gators are coming off their third-consecutive ALC regular-season championship as well as their third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance in the program's four-year history. Florida finished the season with an 18-3 record, including a 9-0 record at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
Florida graduated its first four-year class in 2013 and welcomes 11 rookies to the team. Of the 28 players on the Gators' roster this season, 22 are underclassmen, several of whom are expected to make an immediate impact.
UNC, the reigning NCAA national champion, returns nine starters from the 2-13 season when they went 18-3 and defeated Maryland in triple overtime to win the program's first national title.
Live audio is available from GatorZone.com with Kyle Benzion. Fans can also interact on Twitter by using the season hashtag #FLax or game day hashtag #FLaxVsUNC.