UF lacrosse one win from Final Four


Published: Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 18, 2012 at 5:31 p.m.

The Florida lacrosse team's 2012 to-do list has just one remaining unchecked item — Final Four.

Facts

NCAA Quarterfinals

Who: Florida vs. Penn State
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Donald R. Dizney Stadium
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850

Top-ranked UF, the No. 1 seed for this year's NCAA Tournament, is one win away from checking that one off and will get the opportunity to do that today when the Gators (18-2) host Penn State (12-6) in an NCAA quarterfinal match beginning at 12:30 p.m. at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

Florida, a program in just its third year of competition, reached the Elite Eight last year to cap a remarkable second season, but fell to Duke, 13-9, in the quarterfinals.

This year, UF has taken it up a notch. Led by a junior class that includes a host of players who were part of the Gators' inaugural recruiting class for the 2010 season, Florida has the talent and experience to go all the way.

The next step, though, is a big one.

“I feel like last year we did have high expectations and we accomplished a lot,” junior attacker Ashley Bruns said. “But as our program is growing, we have all these great new additions. Last year, I feel like we could have done it, but there were some things that we needed to learn and grow more, so this year is a really great opportunity for us.”

Head coach Amanda O'Leary concurred.

“I think it was a different perspective and a different mindset,” she said. “We were all pretty surprised at how far we got last year. I think our goal was to get that far, but I think after we won that first-round game, it was like new territory for us.

“I think we're better prepared. They're a year older, a little more mature, and they're certainly handling things on the practice field. They're working hard.”

This year's Gator team not only successfully defended its American Lacrosse Conference regular-season championship from last year, but added its first ALC Tournament title as well, winning it in the Gators' first time as hosts.

They will meet a familiar foe in the Nittany Lions, a fellow ALC member whom the Gators defeated 20-11 back on April 1, handing O'Leary, who coached at Yale for 14 seasons before taking the helm at UF, her 200th career victory.

UF is 3-0 all-time against Penn State, which is ranked No. 13 nationally.

“I think at this point in the season we're two different teams than when we played each other before,” junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher said. “They've grown and we've grown, so I think we'll be looking for a very exciting game again against this team. They have a lot of threats offensively and defensively, so it should be a pretty good matchup.”

Penn State is coming off a 15-8 road win over No. 8 seed Towson State last weekend that was the lone upset of NCAA first-round play. The remaining top seven seeds all advanced.

“Going to the Final Four has been a goal for us since the beginning,” junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell said, “I think right now we're just concentrating on our Penn State game and making sure we win that game to get to the Final Four.”

Today's winner will move on to Stony Brook (N.Y.) University for the NCAA semifinals against the winner of the match between No. 4 seed Syracuse and No. 5 seed North Carolina.

Ironically, those are the only two teams to defeat UF this season. The Tar Heels won 11-9, in Chapel Hill in the season opener, and the Orange handed the Gators their only home defeat, 12-11, in double overtime in early March.

Since then, UF has reeled off 14 consecutive wins.

“For us this year, I think the expectations are just a lot higher,” O'Leary said. “For this team, that's been their goal all year is to make it to the Final Four, and obviously this next contest is a must-win.”

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