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The Season 2019: Florida Gators Brought the Heat...and Heart
As we look back at The Season 2019, we celebrate new exposure for the women’s sport and the inspiring story of a rising DI powerhouse team — the University of Florida Gators — making an impression on many of the longtime legacy teams.
The season brought some exciting wins — and hard losses — for the Gators, but Florida’s unmatched strength and camaraderie was evident from the beginning and proved vital in helping the team overcome adversity early on and throughout the season. Giving up was simply not an option, and regardless of the scoreboard, the players had a successful year on the field.
One story that stands out across the series is the team’s youngest player, 10-year-old cancer patient Jada Turner. Through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, Jada was adopted into the Florida Gators program as an honorary member of the team. She attended practices and games, wore her official blue and orange loud and proud, and even “signed on” as a recruit—all while being a motivation and constant reminder of what’s most important.
With The Season 2019 officially wrapped, we checked in with a few key people to talk all things Florida women’s lacrosse: spearheading creative behind the lens—Terry Foy from Inside Lacrosse—Florida assistant coach Taryn VanThof, and graduating senior Haley Hicklen. Check it out:
Terry Foy, Inside Lacrosse
Looking back at The Season 2019, what were some of the coolest moments and stories for you to tell?
I have such strong memories of Chapter 1: Great Expectations. On-screen, the introduction of Jada to the team will always stand out. I remember watching the episode while out to dinner with my wife on Valentine’s Day, asking for the channel to be changed to ESPNU, and how exciting it was to see former Inside Lacrosse intern Madi Hall on TV.
Did you feel more connected with the programs featured this year [compared to last year]?
For sure, for a bunch of reasons. One reason being that we were able to revisit different people within the program multiple times throughout the season, to get to know them better and see and hear how their stories developed. I think folks who watched The Season 2019 feel like they really know a lot of the players like Lindsey Ronbeck and Sydney Pirreca.
The Gators program is still fairly new on the scene. What struck you about the strength of their program, despite still being in the early stages? Why do you think they've risen to the top so quickly?
Florida combines so many assets and resources into one program: big-time athletics, a powerful degree, jaw-dropping facilities, great weather, and more. The Gators were on the front-ish end of the recent wave of big DI athletic powerhouses added to women’s lacrosse. Not all of them have been successful—much less as immediately successful as Florida has been—so I think Mandee O’Leary deserves tremendous credit for building her coaching staff, for her initial approach in recruiting, and all the other elements that have ensured that Florida fielded a competitive team over the last decade.
Having covered the sport for many years, how do you feel the collegiate game has grown during that time?
I’ve worked in lacrosse since 2007 and the sport has changed a lot. I think one of the biggest things that’s changed is the players’ commitment to their team—the work in the weight room, the time watching film, the time in the training room, the time on the practice field. That’s one of the things about The Season that’s so helpful—it gives a realistic look at the demands of being a college lacrosse player.
Coach Perspective: Taryn VanThof, University of Florida Gators
What were some of your favorite moments from The Season?
The authenticity of these kids around the camera — you really see their personalities shine! The Season captured many serious moments in formal interviews but they also captured the spirit of this group. From photoshoots, hanging with Jada, mic’d up practices and game days, they never held back. The world really got to see Florida Lacrosse and what it’s all about.
What were some of the biggest growing moments for the team this season?
From the first game to the last, this team gave it their all. There was never a point in time where giving up was an option. When you talk about growing moments, it’s not just the strides we made on the field, but the maturity of these student-athletes as young women as well. We watched them overcome tough moments, discouraging losses, and individual setbacks. In return, through all of the adversity, they were able to overcome obstacles, raise an AAC trophy, and advance in the NCAA tournament.
Player Perspective: Haley Hicklen, University of Florida Gators (Graduated 2019)
Have you watched any episodes from The Season? How did it feel to see yourself and the team grow throughout the year?
Yes, I watched! That last episode was really hard to watch, but it was cool to see our progress throughout the season. By the end, we were really coming together as a team, having faith in each other and ourselves, and believing in the process. It was really fun to be able to see that and watch each other reflect on it. I feel very fortunate that my senior season was documented so that I, and the rest of my team, can look back on it in 20 years.
Do you think series like The Season are important to show young fans, families, and even non-lacrosse fans, what college lacrosse is about? Why?
Series like The Season are so important for growing the game of women’s lacrosse. We are a small sport but we are growing. It’s thanks to female athletes with a passion for the sport, and platforms like this series and IL and STX, that allow us to inspire the next generation of female lacrosse athletes.
What were some of your favorite moments from The Season?
All of my favorite moments from The Season are with Jada. Jada was, and still is, such a light in our lives and an inspiration to us all. Lacrosse is so much bigger than the game itself and I really appreciate that we were able to highlight that.
Catch all the episodes of The Season + exclusive bonus content at theseason2019.com.