Lacrosse tops No. 1 Wildcats
Published: Saturday, April 21, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 12:30 a.m.
EVANSTON, Ill. – A four-point effort from Gabi Wiegand and a stellar performance by the Gator defense led the Florida lacrosse team past the undefeated, top-ranked Northwestern Wildcats, 8-7, on Saturday to capture the Gators' second-straight American Lacrosse Conference regular-season title.
“It's amazing,” said standout defender Sam Farrell. “Words can't even describe how we're all feeling right now. We've worked so hard for this. They're undefeated, they haven't had a loss on their home field in years, so it just feels amazing.”
The No. 5 Gators took on the unanimously top-ranked 'Cats in their first-ever matchup with a No. 1 team and pulled out the upset over an undefeated Northwestern squad for the second year in a row. With the win, the Gators finish the regular season with a 15-2 overall record and their second-straight 5-0 ALC campaign. Northwestern takes its first loss in 24 games, dropping to 14-1 (4-1 ALC).
“I think this will certainly give us a huge boost, confidence-wise, in the sense that we were able to play hard and compete with the number one team in the country,” said coach Amanda O'Leary, “It was a hard-fought battle by both teams, and credit both of them.”
Wiegand led the Gators with a total of four points, recording two goals and two assists including the game-winner with under six minutes to go in the second half. Ashley Bruns and Brittany Dashiell each scored a pair of goals, and Nora Barry put up a goal and an assist. Kitty Cullen drove in a goal in the first half, and Nicole Graziano assisted the game-tyer late in the second.
Erin Fitzgerald led the Wildcats with two goals and an assist, all on free position, and Shannon Smith found the back of the net twice. Gabriella Filbotte dazzled in the midfield, notching five draw controls, three ground balls and a goal, and Alex Frank caused two key turnovers.
“They're so competitive, they're such good lacrosse players and they're so smart,” O'Leary said in praise of the Wildcats. “This Northwestern team, they're excellent, so you could never take a breath, even when we were up 5-2. I said they were going to make adjustments at halftime, and they did.”
The nation's leader in save percentage, Mikey Meagher made seven saves in the game and held the 'Cats to their lowest goal total of the year, while national GAA leader Brianne LoManto turned aside six shots.
“Mikey played a great game,” O'Leary said. “This was a stellar game for her. I thought she saw the ball really well. I thought she reacted really well to shots that were being taken, where they were being taken. I thought she did a great job of moving our defense and communicating to them.”
Shannon Gilroy, facing draw specialist Alyssa Leonard, won the opening draw, and just over a minute into the game, Dashiell put the Gators on the board with a line drive from the right side. Bruns then netted a quick stick from Wiegand on the following possession to jump out to an early 2-0 lead.
At 24:51, Shannon Smith scored the first Wildcat goal, assisted by Casey Bocklet, and a minute and a half later, Taylor Thornton netted a free-position goal to tie the score at two.
The score wasn't tied for long, as Cullen snagged the next draw out of mid-air and drove right into the goal to put UF back on top just nine seconds later. Wiegand extended the lead back to two on a free-position goal, and after a 16-minute scoring drought, Wiegand found Dashiell making a cut across the arc to head into intermission riding a 5-2 lead.
The Wildcats emerged from the locker room a new team, scoring three goals in a 57-second span to tie the score at five. Erin Fitzgerald netted back-to-back free-position goals 40 seconds apart, and Filbotte knotted the score on an unassisted drive off the draw.
A foul inside the 8-meter arc on Northwestern's defensive end put the ball in Nora Barry's hand, who sent a quick pass to Bruns left of the crease, which she netted on a crossing shot to put the Gators back in front, 6-5.
Northwestern mimicked UF's free position play twice over the next five minutes, and at 20:51, Fitzgerald found Smith on an 8-meter attempt to hand the 'Cats their first lead of the day, up 7-6.
The Wildcats were in front for just 57 seconds, when Nicole Graziano connected with Nora Barry from the left side of the fan at 19:54, to tie the score once again, 7-7.
The game remained tied for 14 minutes, but with 5:47 to play, Wiegand drove into the arc and found the top-left corner of the net to give the Gators an 8-7 advantage.
NU controlled the ensuing draw, but after a Smith shot sailed wide, Sam Farrell created a huge turnover to put the ball back in Florida's possession. The Gators were unable to run out the rest of the clock, as NU regained possession twice more before the final whistle blew. However, the Florida defense held the 'Cats without a shot for the remainder of the game, to bring ALC regular-season title back to Gainesville for the second-straight year.
The Gators, who closed their regular season on Saturday, will have a week off and then return to action on Friday, May 4, in the ALC semifinals in Gainesville. UF will play the winner of the quarterfinal game between the fourth- and fifth-seeded teams, who are yet to be determined. Live video of the entire ALC tournament will be streamed free of charge for all fans courtesy of GatorVision.