Florida's Potential Showing in WD2
The early story in Division II women's lacrosse this year is the surprising success of two Florida schools: Rollins and Florida Southern.
Florida Southern is playing in its first season and has won both its games, including a 14-9 shocker over No. 10 Mercyhurst on Saturday. The same day Rollins won perhaps the biggest game in program history, taking down defending South Region champion Limestone, 11-10.
The two teams will face off in what could suddenly be a very meaningful game on April 11. In-state bragging rights, and possibly a South Region playoff berth, will be on the line. But no conference title. Both schools compete as independents in lacrosse.
In all other sports Rollins (4-0) and Florida Southern (3-0) are members of the Sunshine State Conference, a league that could instantly become a lacrosse power if it ever sponsored the sport. Currently St. Leo (1-3), which is playing its inaugural season, and wrecked Catawba 19-2 Thursday for its first-ever win, is the only other conference team to offer lacrosse.
"If a few more schools add it it can be a powerhouse," said Rollins coach Dennis Short. "Kara [Reber]'s doing an amazing job at Southern Florida. Lesley [Graham]'s doing a great job in St. Leo. Kids want to come south and want to play in this environment. We're hopeful the success of our program, and the success Florida Southern is already having, will convince some of our conference schools to jump on board."
Barry University, Eckerd College, Florida Tech, Lynn University, Nova Southeastern and University of Tampa are the other programs in the nine-team conference, that has won 76 Division II championships in other sports.
"They're nuts for not already adding women's lacrosse," Short said. "It's a no-brainer."
Short pointed to the successes of Division I programs at Florida and Jacksonville and the growth of the state's high school teams as evidence of Florida's lacrosse potential.
Reber, the coach of Florida Southern, also sees Florida as a fertile ground for lacrosse success.
"When Rollins started they were one of two programs in Florida," Reber said. "I think they've got a really good coaching staff over there. There is good talent in Florida. I think it's good we're down here because hopefully all of us that started it can get the tradition going for the Florida schools."
Sunshine State Conference schools Florida Institute of Technology and Tampa University offer men's lacrosse.
Whenever the next Sunshine State team adds women's lacrosse, there will be plenty of talent to go around. Rollins features players from nine states and, proof of the abundance of in-state talent, seven Floridians. Florida Southern has players from 10 different states and three Floridians.
"Honestly," Short said. "I'm just proud of being a part of the growth of the sport in a non-traditional area. Hopefully setting a good example for the college programs in a state that hasn't had many areas for seeing lacrosse at the next level."