UF advances in NCAA lacrosse after beating Stanford

Florida midfielder Kitty Cullen dodges Stanford's Anna Kim at the first round of the NCAA womens Lacrosse tournament at the University of Florida on Saturday.

Matt Walsh/Correspondent
Published: Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 10:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 10:15 p.m.

Through a five-hour rain delay, Florida waited for the start of its first-ever NCAA Tournament women's lacrosse game.

"I was a little concerned how we would handle it sitting in the locker room," Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said.

The extra time to think ended up working to Florida's advantage. Midfielder Janine Hillier matched her career-high with four goals, and Kitty Cullen added four more, lifting the fourth-seeded Gators to a 13-11 win over Stanford at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

Florida (16-3) will face the winner of Sunday's game between five-seed Duke and Penn in the NCAA quarterfinals next Saturday at 3 p.m. at home. With the win over Stanford, the Gators remained unbeaten at Dizney Stadium (12-0) this season.

"We've worked so hard in the offseason, just beginning with the runs at 6 a.m. on Friday mornings," Cullen said. "So it's nice to see in our second year that hard work is paying off."

In a back-and-forth game that featured five ties and three lead changes, Florida held a Stanford team that averaged 16.1 goals per game to just 11 goals.

"This game is about possession and we came away with the ball most of the time," Hillier said.

The Gators didn't show any early jitters, even after the initial 1 p.m. start time was pushed back to 6. Cullen scored three quick goals, allowing Florida to jump to a 4-0 lead with 24:26 remaining in the first half. But Stanford regrouped, holding the Gators scoreless for the next 20-plus minutes.

Stanford (16-3) tied the game at 4 on an unassisted goal from Karen Nesbitt. But Florida took a 5-4 lead into the half on a goal from Hillier with 13 seconds remaining.

Hillier added three more goals in the second half to match a career-high she set against Ohio State at the ALC tournament. Hillier has scored 12 goals in her last 19 shot attempts.

"We have multiple players who can score and we showed it today," O'Leary said.

After Brittany Dashiell put Florida up 7-4 with an unassisted goal with 29:18 left in the second half, Stanford came storming back. The Cardinal scored four straight times, taking an 8-7 lead on a free-position goal from Leslie Foard. But Florida regrouped. The Gators regained the lead 10-9 on a Caroline Chesterman free-position shot with 14:27 left.

Then, with the score tied at 10, Hillier came through with back-to-back goals in the span of a minute and five seconds to give the Gators some breathing room.

"Our kids could have held their heads down after losing the lead but they fought back," O'Leary said,

With the Gators up 13-11 in the final 10:15, UF was able to successfully stall the remainder of the way. Stanford only had three more possessions in the final 10 minutes. In one of those Stanford possessions, Florida goalkeeper Mikey Meagher came up with two big saves to keep the score at 13-11. Meagher finished with 11 saves.

"We know some balls are going to go into the net, but when you can make your fair share of saves like she did, that's what we expect from her," O'Leary said. "I was pleased with the way she played for us today."

Players and coaches also credited strength and conditioning coach Karen Worth for their ability to stall late in the game.

"Any time you can hold the ball for that amount of time, it comes down to being a well-conditioned team," O'Leary said. "We made them chase us, and I feel confident that we can do that against any team in the country."

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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