WRUF Profiles

UF Lacrosse’s Cara Canington: A Life In Between the Posts

By on September 26th, 2013

Zak Dahlheimer / WRUF

Cara Canington

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.

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Freshman Meggie Dougherty Howard: Making her Mark for the Florida Gators

By on September 23rd, 2013

Bonnie Mott / WRUF

Meggie Dougherty Howard

At the age of 4, Meggie Dougherty Howard played her first soccer game and fell in love with the  sport. Since then she has dreamed of playing soccer at the collegiate level.

That dream came true for Gators freshman Midfielder this season and she takes pride in wearing orange and blue for the Florida Gators.

“It’s so exciting, and such a great experience. I have so much to  look forward to and I can’t wait to work really hard and play great,” said Dougherty Howard. “I’m so thankful to play for the Florida Gators, it truly is an incredible opportunity.”

Before Dougherty Howard debuted at Florida, she was an all- Pinellas County first team selection in 2013 by the Tampa Bay Times and captain of her high school soccer team at St. Petersburg Catholic High School- where her team reached the 2013 Florida High School Athletic Association Class 2A regional final. In addition, she participated in Elite Clubs National League and US Club Soccer 2012 ENCL/id2 National Training Camp at Nike World Headquarters.

Having accomplished so much at a young age makes Dougherty Howard determined to make her mark at the University of Florida, which is precisely what she is doing.

In fact, the young midfielder has played in all 9 of the Gators first games, which is rare for most freshmen, and says she is only getting started. “I just want to get better, learn a lot, and help the team in a positive way,” said Dougherty Howard. “My goal is to be the very best that I can be, so that is what I’m striving to do.”

In September of 2013, Dougherty Howard scored her first career goal for the Gators against Florida International, which gave Florida a 4-0 win.

“It was really exciting and such a great experience – definitely a moment I will never forget,” said Dougherty Howard. “I’ve been working really hard and I’m just hoping that I can continue to improve.”

Dougherty Howard wears her motivation to improve with the number 28 jersey for the Gators.

Initially, she chose number 28 for her mom.  But, with a little help from Gator nation, it didn’t take long for Dougherty Howard to discover she wears the same number professional soccer player, two time gold medalist, and the 2012 FIFA World Player of the year, Abby Wambach wore while playing for the Gators.

“I wasn’t even aware when I picked it. I actually picked the number because it’s my mom’s birthday and she has been really influential and supportive of me throughout soccer. But I’m just so honored to have the same number as Abby,” said Dougherty Howard. “I know that I have big shoes to fill, obviously. So I hope that I can just show respect to Abby and just play really well and live up to her standards.”

With three more years of collegiate play, she has plenty of time. For now though, Dougherty Howard is working toward a business degree, and hopeful of one day playing professional soccer.

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Taylor Brauneis: Setting Her Way to a Title

By on September 22nd, 2013

John McLaughlin / Alligator

Taylor Brauneis

The Florida Gators volleyball team has high hopes for their 2013 season as they look to capture their first national championship. No player is more important for those title hopes than starting setter, senior Taylor Brauneis.

Brauneis has already had an incredible college career. She was named 2nd and 1st team All-Big East in her first two seasons at the University of Louisville, respectively, and then named 1st team All-SEC with an SEC leading 11.65 assists/set last year after transferring to the University of Florida in 2012. Even with those honors, she hopes to add “national champion” to her list of accomplishments prior to graduating.

Brauneis chose to attend the University of Louisville over offers from Northwestern, Illinois, and Penn State. After the 2011 season, however, Brauneis announced she planned to transfer from Louisville and eventually settled at the University of Florida.

“Things at Louisville just weren’t really working out. I wanted to play for a program that would be ranked top 25 and had a chance to win championships. I feel like I had that chance here (at UF),” said Brauneis.

After a successful junior season in 2012, that included an SEC championship, Brauneis and the Gators are poised to make a run for the national championship. The Gators have already had a tough slate of non-conference matches against #1 Penn State and then #2 Stanford in the Nike Big 4 Tournament at the beginning of September. The Gators beat Stanford, with the help of an incredible 50 sets by Brauneis, and then followed up with a loss to Penn State the next day. Brauneis believes those two matches in particular were season defining moments for the team.

“When you play two great teams like Stanford and Penn State and actually show that you can compete with them, it gives us a lot of confidence as a team that we can and will fight with the big dogs for that championship,” said Brauneis.

The Gators have a top ranking in the polls, but Brauneis dismissed the significance.

“It’s great that people are recognizing and ranking us so high, but it’s still way too early to get caught up in those (rankings),” said Brauneis.

Instead, Brauneis believes if the Gators “take care of business,” they’ll be right in the thick of the national title race at season’s end.

Hopes are high for Brauneis and the Gators as they strive to become the first national champions in Florida Volleyball history

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Gators Gymnast Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto is right where she belongs.

By on May 3rd, 2013
Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto
Credit: Bobby Scheppske

Gainesville may be far away from Montreal, Quebec, but Freshman Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto feels right at home at the University of Florida. The Canadian gymnast came to Florida as part of the number one ranked freshman class in the country, but before last year she never realized she could compete as a college gymnast.

“In Canada we don’t train to go to college, we train to go to regionals. While here in the United States they train to go to College. I didn’t even know college gymnastics existed before last year,” said Dancose-Giambattisto.

When Dancose-Giambattisto was choosing which college to attend, what she liked about the University of Florida  was how the gymnastics squad felt like more than just a team.

“Here it’s really like a family. I know it sound’s cliché, but it’s really true. Here every single one of us treats each other like a sister,” said Dancose-Giambattisto.

Competing at the University of Florida won’t be the only time Dancose-Giambattisto will be put in the spotlight. She has already been on the national stage while particpating with the Canadian National Team during their silver medal run in the Pan American Games, and when she placed first in uneven bars and third overall during the 2011 Canadian Championships.

Now Dancose-Giambattisto prepares for meets every week, but believes she has already adapted to collegiate play.

“It wasn’t a hard adjustment, but different. We are used to training months for one event, but now it’s every single week,” explained Dancose-Giambattisto.

Unfortunately, Dancose-Giambattisto hasn’t seen much action in her first year as she has been recovering from a Lisfranc fracture, an injury to the foot, which she suffered during 2012′s Olympic Trials. To compensate for the injury, she has been working on different apparatuses which are less intensive on her foot and believes  she will be ready to make an impact soon.

“I’m going to stay here for the whole summer and will work really hard on my foot,” said Dancose-Giambattisto. “Hopefully, I come back next year fully recovered.”

Once Dancose-Giambattisto recuperates, she will make the highly touted Florida gymnastics team that much better.

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Gators Softball Player Kirsti Merritt Dreams Of National Championship

By on April 28th, 2013

In her first game as a Gator, Florida Gators freshman center fielder Kirsti Merritt stepped into the batter’s box in the fifth inning against Creighton.

The Lake Panasoffkee, FL, native belted the ball over the left field fence for her first career home run.

“That was so exciting to me,” Merritt said of her grand slam. “I didn’t even know what was going on, and then it just happened. All of my friends were texting me like ‘oh my gosh, good job!’”

Since her first game, the freshman has had a stellar first year. Arguably replacing the best Gators softball player, Michelle Moultrie, in center field is no easy thing to do. Especially since center field isn’t Merritt’s primary position.

The South Sumter High School graduate played shortstop all four years before coming to Gainesville, but when she got to UF, coach Tim Walton stuck her out in center.

There hasn’t been any issue with the change though, as she only has two errors on the season as of April 28.

She credits the easy adjustment to playing multiple sports growing up. In high school, Merritt lettered in softball, volleyball, basketball, track and weight lifting.

“I love challenging myself,” Merritt said. “I like to do get out there and do as many things as possible. That’s why it has been so easy for me to transition from infield to outfield.”

The transition from high school to college was one Merritt welcomed and said signing day was “the greatest day of my life.”

When she first verbally committed to Florida, she ran through her house screaming at the top of her lungs.

“My mom was like ‘What’s going on? Are you OK?’” and Merritt said to her, “‘I just got off the phone with coach Walton and I’m going to Florida!’”

The freshman has been a force at the top of the lineup  since she arrived at Florida. As of April 28, Merritt has a .290 average, 38 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.

However, her legs haven’t been 100 percent all season.

In a game against Western Carolina, Merritt came up limping after legging out a double. She would miss the next seven games because of the injury.

She returned to the lineup against the University of South Florida on Feb. 27, the only other school that had recruited her out of high school.

“It was hard for me to sit out, but it was fun cheering them on because you always want your team to win and see them do good things,” Merritt said.

Now that she is back in the lineup, Kirsti has one goal on her mind, getting a national championship. She says,”That’s what I came to Florida to do.”


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Gators Women’s Soccer Havana Solaun soars to new heights

By on April 25th, 2013

Havana Solaun has all the traits of a high-level soccer player.

She is fast, consistent and a team player – and she’s only a sophomore. The young midfielder became the second leading goal scorer on the team, behind senior Erika Tymrak, in the Gators’ 2012 season. She scored a total seven goals, and was second in assists, grabbing eight last season. Solaun said getting the ball into the back of the net is a feeling unlike any other.

“Once you score it’s kind of like ‘Wow, it worked,’” said Solaun. “We spend hours and hours of practice just trying to score and when it actually happens in the game, it kind of feels like your hard work paid off.”

Havana Solaun
Credit: Michelle Provenzano

Showing her strengths on the field early in her college career has gained Solaun attention nationally. The sophomore was recruited to play three games with the U.S. U-23 Women’s National team in Spain in March of 2013. Solaun brought her versatility on the field to La Manga, Spain, contributing an assist in the team’s 6-0 victory over Sweden. Solaun found U.S. teammate Colleen Williams in the 80th minute and initiated a cross kick that set up Williams for the goal.

Despite her achievements on the collegiate and foreign fields, the sophomore hasn’t let the success get to her head. Growing up on a farm just outside of Gainesville, FL, where she had to milk one of three family cows, Solaun credits her upbringing for her success.

“It teaches you a lot of discipline,” Solaun said of her farm work. “In high school that was my main chore, so it taught me to really manage my time. I had to make a lot of sacrifices because I had to be home every night at 5 o’clock to milk, and I had to wake up at 6:30 every morning to milk.”

Her small town life helped her make an impact away from the soccer fields as well. While in high school, Solaun rounded up cleats and soccer balls for children living in a Guatemalan village displaced by floods. Solaun joined her father on a trip to the village to help the community and deliver the soccer equipment. The experience gave her a perspective she has carried ever since.

“Soccer is such a distraction for them that it was really amazing to see how happy it really made them,” said Solaun.  “They would play for hours if they could. To me, that just made me realize how amazing the game can be.”

With two more years in collegiate play, Solaun is working toward a degree in psychology to become a sport psychologist if she doesn’t play pro soccer . For now though, she is hopeful for the seasons ahead.

“I wanna become a more consistent player overall for my team,” said Solaun. “I think I kind of have my moments and I wanna try and show more of that in the future.”

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Great Expectations: Claire Falknor Eyes Improvement this Season

By on April 21st, 2013
Claire Falknor
Credit: Danny Gibble

Playing 24 of 26 games, while starting two for  over 900 minutes in their first year sounds successful to most players, but for freshmen forward Claire Falknor it wasn’t good enough.

In her first match as a Gator against the University of Miami, she received a pass from now National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) player Erika Tymrak that she shot past the Miami goalkeeper and into the side of the net. Falknor made it look so easy, but the Gators lost the match 4-1 to the Hurricanes. That was the first and only goal Falknor scored on the year. The drought made Falknor reconsider her play-style and become a little discouraged.

“I felt like I lost my confidence last year because I didn’t meet my standards,” Falknor said. “This year, our spring season is a clean slate, and I can start over new and start fresh, and I am slowly building my confidence back.”

She is not only trying to play the spring 2013 season with a new mindset; she is in a new position. Ever since Falknor was a freshman at Centerville High School in Dayton, OH she has been on the attacking side of the field. By her sophomore year she was leading her team in goals and assists with 17 and 14 respectively. Falknor even was ranked among ESPN’s top 150 prospects as a forward. But, Florida Soccer Head Coach Becky Burleigh moved Falknor to defense for the spring 2013 season.

“I am still going to get involved in the attack, but our team has a new identity now that the seniors have left, and there are a lot of spots to fill,” Falknor said.

Falknor showed  she still has offensive skills on a road trip to Cary, NC, scoring a goal from the defensive side against Duke that helped the Gators get the victory over the Blue Devils 2-1.

Falknor’s goals now are to help the Gators from whatever position she is on the field to live up to her own expectations, and with the creation of the NWSL in 2013, she hopes she can play well enough to make it to the pros.

“I am really striving to make it to the league, and I am confident this school will prepare me for that,” she said.

Claire Falknor will look to continue improving in the Gators last few spring games, and hopes to be back to top form when fall season begins.

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Stuck The Landing: Gymnast Marissa King Reflects On Gators Career

By on April 17th, 2013

When Marissa King was about 11 years old, she and a few friends put their hopes and dreams, including where they saw themselves in 10 years, down on paper. They put the slips of paper into a shoebox and haven’t opened it since.

King, a senior and geography and telecommunications major on the University of Florida gymnastics team, is planning to open it with those friends after she graduates – in the summer of 2013.

“I really had no idea I’d be here,” King said on being at UF.

Although she will be graduating soon, the experience the Great Britain native obtained from her collegiate career will stick to her like she sticks a dismount: proud, prominent and passionate.

Even with many lifestyle changes she has faced coming to the United States to compete for the University of Florida and a hectic schedule, King said she’s loved being a Gator.

“I’ve grown up a lot. Coming over here was such a huge transition. I’ve had to learn so many things, not only just in the gym and learning about collegiate gymnastics, (but) growing as a person transitioning over here and learning to adapt with living in a new environment and a new culture,” King said.

King said her brother has made fun of her for picking up an “American twang” when she speaks, but her English accent returns when she is around her family.

“As a freshman, it was really difficult to kind of get used to not having my family here at all. But now as a senior I’ve kind of gotten used to them not here,” said King.

Her family may have been across the pond, but they know what she has accomplished, and she has achieved many accolades in her career with the Gators, even if all the awards are difficult sometimes to track.

“I don’t even know what they mean half the time. I hear All-SEC and I’m like ‘that’s cool.’” King said on awards.

King, a leader on the team as one of four seniors for 2013, said her biggest priority, as well as the team’s, is winning the first NCAA Championship for Florida gymnastics.

“I’m definitely more of a vocal leader, but we don’t have one leader,” she said. “Being the upperclassmen, having gained so much experience over the last couple years, it was very exciting to come back.”

King made the jump from the U.K. to the U.S. not knowing how she would respond. But, she has undoubtedly stuck the landing.



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McCumber Looks to Leave Mark in Senior Campaign

By on April 17th, 2013
Tyler McCumber
Credit: Lucas Dolengowski

Growing up as the son of a PGA Tour winner can put pressure on a young golfer to perform well and live up to expectations. But Tyler McCumber is making a name for himself as the senior captain of the Florida Gators Men’s golf team.

McCumber was named a Division I PING Honorable Mention All-American honors and was selected to the PING All-Southeast Region and All-SEC Second Team. He ranked second on the team in stroke average (72.8), percent of rounds counted (88 percent), scoring differential (3.51), birdies made (115), and top-10 finishes (seven). McCumber finished off his season with a tie for second at the NCAA Championships. He was also named to the 2011 and 2012 SEC Community Service Team.

“I just want them to say that I didn’t leave anything on the table, that I gave it my all,” McCumber said. “Putting in the work and directing the team as best I can, that’s definitely my legacy.”

McCumber has been around the game of golf his whole life. His father, Mark McCumber, played on the PGA Tour from 1979 to 1994, winning ten times and also played on the 1989 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Although his father  did not force his son into the game, but once Tyler McCumber realized his potential to succeed in the sport, he looked to his father to take his abilities to the next level.

“He’s been a positive influence. He’s been my mentor, my teacher,” Tyler said. “Obviously he’s taught me most of the things I know about the game, especially before I came here [to UF].”

Although he has aspirations of playing professionally and leaving a legacy as an individual competitor, his goals for his senior season are purely collective. The Gators finished tied for 12th last year at the NCAA Championships, just a few shots of getting into the match play round, with McCumber finishing in a tie for second. He hopes that those results will be a little different this time around.

“Our goal for the season is to prepare ourselves for the postseason and get as good as we can get going into SEC’s, and then continuing our success there,” he said. “We have nothing to look back on but good memories and good thoughts.”


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Amanda O’Leary: Florida’s Lax Leader

By on April 17th, 2013
Amanda O’Leary
Credit: Shane Chernoff

University of Florida Lacrosse Coach Amanda O’Leary has had success as both a player and coach. Her drive and focus are apparent as she shouted out orders to her players during a March 2013 matchup against Ohio State University.

“Kitty [Cullen], move up! Who’s on number 24?!” yelled O’Leary.

Her competitive spirit is reflected in her resume as a coach, as well as a player. Before she took the helm of the Gators Lacrosse program that made it to the national semifinal in 2012, in only its third year of existence, the 2012 coach of the year by the women’s lacrosse website womenslax.com, was one of the best women’s lacrosse players of the 1980s. As a midfielder at Temple she was a two-time first team All-American and was the MVP of the 1988 NCAA championships. The Royersford, PA native said her experience as a midfielder helps her coach both offense and defense.

“As a former midfielder I understand what they’re going through and that they [the players] need to be proficient at both ends. We’ve had some great athletes that are able to play both ends and who are able to pull that off. I feel lucky that I’m able to coach people like that,” said O’Leary.

O’Leary, who was inducted into the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2005 and a part of Lacrosse Magazine’s All-Century Women’s Lacrosse team, coached at Yale for 14 seasons before being hired as the first-ever Florida Lacrosse coach in 2007. UF’s lacrosse program did not officially start competition until 2010, making O’Leary’s class of 2013 the first graduating class in Florida lacrosse history. O’Leary said she could not be more proud to be part of the inaugural class of University of Florida lacrosse. She added the program wouldn’t be where it is right now without her supportive players.

“It’s a dream come true for me, when I first got here, not only just the support of the administration with the resources that were afforded, to be able to coach these players I have to credit a lot to them as well,” said O’Leary.

In addition to being a coach, O’Leary believes it’s important to support her players after their college careers and build a support system for them as they move forward in life.

“I want my legacy to be, regardless of winning championships, that when my players walk across that graduation stage, they can hug me and look and me and say ‘these were the best four years of my life,’ and if they can say that, I think I’ve done my job,” said O’Leary.

O’Leary and Gators fans both hope they can watch the players walk across the stage with national championship rings on their fingers. Until then, it’s hard to argue that O’Leary has been a fantastic fit for Florida Lacrosse.


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