UCF Hopes for Cinderella Run at WCLA Nationals
by J. Jude Hazard | LaxMagazine.com
Kaitlyn Lorenc and sixth-seeded Central Florida will take the momentum of their SWLL title into the WCLA Division I National Championship and a first-round matchup with Brigham Young.
© Christopher Nardone
A storybook season for the University of Central Florida women's lacrosse team has at least one chapter left.
The Knights (16-2) captured the Southeastern Women's Lacrosse League championship in an upset 12-10 win over Florida Club on April 15 and have earned the conference's automatic qualifier to the US Lacrosse Women's Collegiate Lacrosse Associates (WCLA) National Championship next month in Colorado Springs. The brackets were released Tuesday. UCF, the No. 6 seed, will face No. 11 seed Brigham Young in a first-round game May 9.
Central Florida played much of 2012 under the radar, bypassing tournaments in Santa Barbara and Georgia that many other top programs used to size each other up. The Knights moved up from 13th to seventh in the latest WCLA poll after beating the Gators.
"I truly look at the season as a journey," Central Florida head coach Tom Hopkins said. "We knew that this season had to be a complete body of work."
The Knights' only regular season losses were against No. 8-ranked Texas and a narrow 11-10 loss to No. 3-ranked Florida. (See full results below.) Central Florida took a 7-6 halftime lead against Texas in the Lonestar Showdown on Feb. 19. That was the Knights' fifth game in three days, and Texas powered past Central Florida with seven second-half goals to win 13-8.
"It was just the worst possible scenario for us, but for one half I had a glimpse of what we could do against a team like Texas," Hopkins said. "Our strength is that our team is so mature and can execute at any level that we've experienced to this point."
The narrow 11-10 loss against Florida was on March 17, a defeat that the Knights avenged by beating the Gators 12-10 in the SWLL championship game a month later.
"We poured our hearts out on that field for that last game. We were going into that game determined to win," Central Florida senior Bianca Diaz said. "When we played Florida in the regular season, it was the same level of play. We knew that we could beat them. We had it in us."
Diaz said heading into her second and final career nationals appearance she will tell her teammates to strive to play their best lacrosse for 60 minutes.
"My motto is: head, hustle, heart. You put all you can on the field for an hour and after that you can rest," Diaz said. "You're here now. Take in this moment because it is such an amazing experience."
A key to the Knights' success this year has been the team's improved defense, which is smarter, faster and stronger in one-on-one situations than previous Central Florida teams, according to both Hopkins and Diaz.
"It's more about us than the team that we're playing. Typically, when we're playing well, and we do the things that we practice and really excel at, the game does kind of take care of itself," Hopkins said. "We do feel that whoever we play, we're going to play our best game, and if we win it we're going to play our best game right after that."
Hopkins said that his players this year are the most mature he has coached in his eight years with Central Florida.
"I don't have to ramp them up like past teams that might be a little bit doubting. This is a very confident team," he said. "I'm in a luxury position. I have a very mature group of players with a really high lax IQ."
Central Florida's 2012 Regular Season
Feb. 4 - vs South Carolina Club - W, 7-6
Feb. 4 - at Tennessee - W, 20-9
Feb. 5 vs Mississippi W 8-2
Feb. 12 - vs. South Florida - W, 15-4
Feb. 12 - vs. Miami - W, 16-6
Feb. 17 - vs. Virginia Club - W, 14-13 2OT
Feb. 17 - vs. Northeastern - W, 8-4
Feb. 18 - vs. Boston College Club - W, 8-5
Feb. 18 - vs. Minnesota - W, 11-5
Feb. 19 - at Texas - L, 8-13
Feb. 25 - vs. Florida State - W, 20-5
Feb. 26 - vs. Rhode Island - W, 9-4
March 17 - vs. Florida Club - L, 10-11
March 25 - vs. Alabama - W, 20-3
March 31 - at Georgia - W, 9-7
SWLL Conference Tournament
April 14 - vs. Clemson - W, 16-1
April 14 - vs. Mississippi - W, 15-1
April 15 - vs. Florida Club - W, 12-10