A new era began in 2010 for Florida Gator athletics as UF lacrosse kicked off its first season. And in the goal that first year representing the Gators was freshman Cara Canington from Bel Air, Maryland. Now a redshirt senior about to graduate with a degree in sports management, she’s the lone remaining member of the founding team.
“You know it’s kind of a surreal feeling. I was just really blessed and thankful for the opportunity to be able to be a part of that, and to not take it for granted,” said Canington. “I really appreciated those times I had freshman year, it was fantastic.”
College sports flow through Cannington’s blood. Her older brother played football at Furman and her father played football at Vanderbilt. In fact her jersey number, 25, was her father’s number when he played for the Commodores.
“Growing up, sports was always a part of the household. We were a sports family,” said Canington.
She started playing field hockey and lacrosse growing up. After playing multiple positions in lacrosse, she settled on goalkeeper.
“I just really wanted to try goalie. I wanted to be like my brother, put that helmet on, and play kind of the football style,” said Canington. “I finally tried the goalkeeping position and I fell in love and haven’t looked back since.”
At C. Milton Wright High School, she played 4 years on the Varsity team, made it to 2 regional championships, was a 2-year captain, and was team MVP for 3 seasons from 2007-2009. Canington was also named to Inside Lacrosse Magazine’s 2008 Rising Senior Watch List.
After visiting Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, Virginia Tech, and Duke, Canington found that “warm and fuzzy feeling” she was looking for at Florida during her visit with Coach Amanda O’Leary.
“I looked at a dirt field and Mandee (O’Leary) said, ‘Well here it is. Buy into a dream.’ And there was something about that I thought, ‘Yes. I want to buy into this.’ This is for me,” said Canington.
Canington went on to have a successful freshman season in 2010, ranking 26th in the nation and finishing third among freshmen in goals against average with 9.74, 126 saves, and a .438 save percentage. During her sophomore campaign, she saw action in five games as backup goalie while recovering from a broken finger injury. Canington bounced back in 2012, making 11 appearances and notching a 3-0 record as a starter during her junior season.
Following her junior year, Canington redshirted for the 2013 season. She humbly said redshirting last season really helped her focus on her personal game.
“I just think it was a really good year to kind of focus on me, not saying that I’m not focusing on the team because I really want us to do well, but it was a good year for me to just reflect and get better on a personal level,” said Canington.
When the Gators are not in season, Coach O’Leary keeps the team busy. The team’s training focuses on footwork and hand-eye coordination.
“As a goalie, you have to have a quick first step and really quick feet. So we’re out here doing ladder drills and jumping rope, snatching a ball from the air, dropping a ball to the ground and just constantly driving your hand out. It’s a good time,” said Canington.
After going to three straight American Lacrosse Conference championships, winning both an ALC regular-season and tournament title in 2012, numerous NCAA tournament appearances, and winning multiple Honor Roll awards, Canington has high expectations, both for herself and the team.
“I’m looking for us to win an ALC title, to make the tournament, and go far,” said Canington. “I expect nothing less because we’ve built a great tradition here. We have the formula so we just need to continue to work hard.”
The Gators will look to use that formula to try and achieve success in 2014. And for Canington, she’ll look to cap off her career on a high note as the 2014 season marks the beginning of a new era.