With many new faces across the roster, it was the freshmen who gave the Florida lacrosse team an early lift on a cool Sunday afternoon in Florida’s first game of the season.
Led by a pair of first-half goals each from freshmen Kassidy Bresnahan and Grace Haus, the No. 5-ranked Gators broke through and never trailed in downing No. 17-ranked Colorado 16-9 at Dizney Stadium in the first meeting between the two programs.
“I was so pleased with our freshmen. They did a fantastic job. Kassidy and Grace and Shannon (Kavanagh), they had the first couple goals, so it was exciting to see them get on the board early,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “To see them compete at this level and compete really well, I think bodes well for the future for us.”
Facing the first of seven ranked opponents this season, the Gators (1-0) built an early 4-2 lead before the Buffaloes (1-1) began clawing back, and the two programs would trade goals until Florida pulled ahead and took an 8-5 lead by the midway point.
But the first 10 minutes of the second period saw Colorado seize the momentum and pulled within 9-8 of the Gators, and Florida appeared to be close to trailing for the first time.
The Buffaloes, who opened the season with a 20-10 win over Michigan on Friday night in Jacksonville, seemed to benefit from having a game under their belts, yet the Gators would not be deterred on their home field. Six unanswered goals quelled Colorado’s comeback effort and put the game out of reach.
“I think offensively we just started to move a little bit faster. We played with a little more speed, we had the ball moving a little bit quicker,” O’Leary said of the decisive second-half push. “But credit Colorado, they did a fantastic job defensively in the first half, and even in the second half they came out and their goalkeeper made some big saves, so. That’s a really good team, they’re going to fare very well this season.”
Florida led for nearly the entire match, as Bresnahan’s goal came just 37 seconds into the game and the Buffaloes pulled even with the Gators for just 4:32 in the opening period.
Colorado outpaced the Gators in shots, 34-28, but UF junior goalkeeper Haley Hicklen picked up right where she left off last season, setting a career-high in saves with 14.
“A lot of my saves are thanks to the defense,” Hicklen said. “They get the girls in a position where the shot is not going to be as great of a shot where they can get off.”
Senior attacker Shayna Pirreca inched closer to scoring her 100th career goal when her pair of strikes brought her within just three goals of reaching the milestone.
In perhaps the biggest game of the season, Florida returns to action Saturday to host No. 1 Maryland, which claimed the 2017 national championship with a 16-13 win over Boston College to cap a perfect 23-0 season.
“I think there’s a lot of growth that needs to be had between now and when we open up next weekend,” O’Leary said. “There’s a lot of things that we’ll be working on, but it’s all good stuff.”