Lacrosse tops No. 2 Northwestern

UF lacrosse vs. Northwestern
UF lacrosse vs. Northwestern

Florida midfielder Kitty Cullen runs past Northwestern defender Colleen Magarity (13) during the first half on Thursday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 9:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 9:47 p.m.

Amid the cheers of a standing-room-only crowd, the Florida lacrosse team erupted into a wild celebration as the final seconds ticked off the clock on the biggest win in the program's brief history.

The sixth-ranked Gators upset No. 2 Northwestern 13-11 Thursday night before 1,518 fans at Donald R. Dizney Lacrosse Stadium to cap their home schedule with a signature win.

"They've proven themselves. They don't need to prove anything else," said Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, who steered the Wildcats to five consecutive national championships (2005-09) and six straight NCAA title game appearances. "They really are a great team and a great program. They play together and they're athletic and talented. They're a great team, and they're very well-coached."

With its 13th straight win and fifth win this season against a top-25 opponent, Florida earned a share of the American Lacrosse Conference regular-season title as well as the No. 1 seed in the ALC Tournament May 5-7 in Nashville, Tenn.

The Gators (13-1, 4-0 ALC) were led by the dominant performance of sophomore Kitty Cullen, who scored six times and leads the nation with 67 goals on the season. She has scored 24 goals in her last four games.

Cullen, who had a hat trick in each half, carried the Gator offense for stretches and scored the last three goals of the game to seal the victory for Florida.

"Kitty is fantastic," said sophomore goaltender Mikey Meagher. "Her growth from last year to this year is unbelievable. She's a phenomenal player and deserves all the credit in the world."

Said Florida coach Amanda O'Leary: "(Northwestern) is an extremely talented team. They had Taylor Thornton on (Cullen), who is in my estimation the best defender in the country. So, Kitty's great. That's all I can say. She's great. I'm glad she's on my team and I don't have to stop her."

Sophomore Caroline Chesterman also had a hat trick for the Gators, who got two goals apiece from sophomores Ashley Bruns and Janine Hillier. Sophomore Brittany Dashiell added three assists.

Northwestern (12-1, 2-1) was led by sophomore attacker Erin Fitzgerald's four goals. The Wildcats' leading scorer, Shannon Smith, added three goals and an assist to her nation-leading total of 76 points.

But Florida's defense stifled Smith and the 'Cats' best playmakers throughout the night.

"Haydon (Judge) played on (Smith) and was just alert the whole entire game," Meagher said. "She's just an incredible defender, and everybody else played amazing as well."

Hiller agreed.

"They played great," Hiller said. "They definitely were able to stifle our players and had an effective game plan."

The first half of the game saw both teams in uncharted territory. Florida held an early four-goal advantage over Northwestern, the Wildcats' largest deficit of the season.

It was a stark contrast to their game a year ago — a 19-5 home win by Northwestern. In that game the Gators were admittedly in awe of one of women's lacrosse's most storied programs.

Before the game O'Leary specifically pointed to the way the Wildcats had passed their way over, around and through the bedazzled Gators last season.

Early in the first half Thursday, there were no stars in the eyes of a UF team that has now burst onto the national scene.

"We're known to get off to a quick start," O'Leary said. "Our team comes out of the locker room very fired up. It doesn't take a whole lot to get fired up to play the No. 2-ranked team in the country. They came out focused, they executed well, so it was really positive."

Florida took a 9-4 lead into halftime, but Northwestern came roaring back early in the second half with three straight goals.

With Florida clinging to a 12-8 second-half lead, the Wildcats ripped off another barrage of three consecutive goals to make it a one-goal game with 6:37 left.

But Cullen was there, shaking two defenders with speedy jukes to score the Gators' 13th and final goal of the game.

Coming off the field after the game, Cullen said to a teammate, "I can't believe it!" She marveled at the difference between Florida's loss to Northwestern last year and this victory a year later.

"Ugh, it's indescribable," she said. "Last year we were down 14-0 at half and now we just beat them. It just really shows how much we've matured in the last year. They're an unbelievable team, and for us to come out with this win just means everything."

Florida next plays at conference foe No. 17 Vanderbilt Sunday at 1 p.m. But on this night, the Gators savored victory.

Long after the game, there were loud cheers and hugs amidst a barbecue for the team, family members and friends behind the fieldhouse. There was much to celebrate after a signature win.

"This is the best (team) I've ever coached" O'Leary said. "This team, from top to bottom, is probably the most talented group I've ever worked with. And they're fun to work with. They're a great group of kids."

The win gave Florida a share of the American Lacrosse Conference regular-season title as well as the No. 1 seed in the ALC Tournament May 5-7 in Nashville, Tenn.

Florida next plays at conference foe No. 17 Vanderbilt Saturday at 1 p.m.

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