JU set to open against Gators
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The JU women’s lacrosse team begins its third season Wednesday and has its eyes on another National Lacrosse Conference championship.

First, however, the Dolphins must deal with the fourth-ranked Florida Gators.

“It’s exciting to play a team that has proven to be one of the top teams in the country and that’s a good challenge for us,’’ JU coach Mindy McCord said. “I feel really excited that every year we open with Florida. They’re the in-state rival and it’s a team we will always look forward to playing.’’

The Dolphins have much to look forward to as they return 26 letter-winners from last year’s 14-5 team that won the regular season NLC title with a 7-0 record and led the nation in scoring at more than 21 points per game.

High-scoring Morgan Derner (53 goals 14 assists) who led the nation’s freshmen in scoring a year ago, Ellyn Spangenberg (25 goals, four assists) and Jen Cosgrove (23 goals, six assists) lead the way and should get plenty of help from junior Amanda Hurley (29 goals, three assists), who scored the first goal in the first game ever played at Florida’s lacrosse complex.

And, with another year under their belts, McCord expects opening-night jitters to be a little less than in the past.

“When season starts there’s a little bit of nervousness at the start of the game,’’ she said. “This isn’t a new thing now. The first year, sure, but we know a lot about them and we’re very prepared for them. Our team is really excited to kick start our season. What our team loves is playing games and they don’t care who the opponent is. We’re excited to start the season and it doesn’t matter what the name on the jersey is.’’

The first name on the jersey will be Florida which lost its opener to third-ranked North Carolina, 11-9.

The Gators won the high-powered American Lacrosse Conference, it includes top-ranked Northwestern, regular season title last year and has three players, Kitty Cullen, Ashley Bruns and Sam Farrell on the league’s Players to Watch list.

Cullen, the nation’s second-leading scorer in 2011 with 77 goals, had three goals against the Tar Heels as Bruns, who ranked in the top 20 last season in both assists and points.

"They have a lot of resources and have put a lot of money into their program and they have attracted some marque talent,'' McCord said. "They started their program about a year prior to ours, but we are making strides forward to catch up. We put a big focus on the relationships and the human resources we have at JU, and of course living at the beach is a big plus in attracting top-tier talent as well. We are excited about the game and the future."

The Dolphins hope to take advantage of playing Team England in a preseason exhibition which has some of the best players in the world. Last year, they played the U.S. Under-19 team as a warm up.

“They are unique warm ups,’’ assistant coach Adam Norton said. “The initial jitters, particularly for the younger kids, get flushed out in that game.’’

- Jim Nasella