NCAA semifinals serve as homecoming for UF's Gilroy


Florida freshman Shannon Gilroy has four goals and one assist in two NCAA Tournament games.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 9:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 6:38 p.m.

Florida freshman midfielder Shannon Gilroy will be coming home to compete in Friday's NCAA women's lacrosse final four in Stony Brook, N.Y.

Facts

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What: NCAA Women's Lacrosse national semifinals
Where: Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, Stony Brook, N.Y.
Friday's games
No. 4 Syracuse (18-3) vs. No. 1 Florida (19-2), 5:30 p.m.
No. 3 Maryland (19-3) vs. No. 2 Northwestern (19-2), 8 p.m.

But Gilroy's stellar first season at UF came close to never materializing. Had it not been for the Florida training staff, her teammates and her own determination, Gilroy could have spent this season on a medical redshirt.

Instead, Gilroy has emerged as a draw specialist and offensive threat for the top-seeded Gators (19-2). Her four goals and one assist in two NCAA Tournament games have helped Florida reach its NCAA semifinal matchup with fourth-seeded Syracuse (18-3).

“She's an incredible piece to the puzzle,” Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said. “Without her, I don't think we would be able to achieve the success that we've had. She's an integral part of the draw on the offensive end through the midfield, so she plays a huge part in our team.”

Gilroy was considered one of the key pieces in Florida's 2011 lacrosse recruiting class that was ranked third in the nation. But last June 11, in the final minutes of her final high school game, Gilroy suffered a torn ACL. The knee injury came shortly after Gilroy scored the game-tying goal for Northport (N.Y.) High to force overtime in its 11-10 Class A state title win over Pittsford.

“It was definitely upsetting to me because I didn't know where I still stood after I tore my ACL,” Gilroy said. “That was my first thought. I didn't really care about my knee, I cared more about my college experience. It definitely got me really nervous and scared, but it just made me work that much harder to get back.”

O'Leary had received the news of Gilroy's injury by text message while at the NCAA All-American banquet. The text came from someone in the stands who watched the game.

“I was saddened for Shannon,” O'Leary said. “She obviously had worked so hard.”

But O'Leary said she knew from recruiting Gilroy that she would work just as hard to be back to 100 percent in time for the start of her freshman season.

“Anybody who knows Shannon knows what an incredible work ethic she has and she doesn't hear the word no,” O'Leary said. “We knew just when she came in here with the incredible support staff that we have medically, we knew that they were going to try everything we could to get her back.”

Gilroy said her “24 hours a day” of rehab started over the summer and continued when she arrived on the UF campus in the second week of August.

“It was my goal,” Gilroy said. “I just did whatever I could. I had pushed myself past my limit.”

But there were times when Gilroy had to back off to let her knee naturally heal.

“It was tough mentally on me, but I had people to help me recover from that,” Gilroy said.

One of those who helped was Florida junior teammate Kitty Cullen. Like Gilroy, Cullen spent last fall rehabbing from an offseason injury.

“We were together every day,” Cullen said. “I was trying to talk her through it, help her out. Every day we had to sit and watch together, and we would go shoot and we wouldn't be able to run or anything, and it kinda got tough sometimes. But she worked really, really hard, and she's come such a long way. I'm really proud of her.”

Gilroy did not play in UF's exhibition game against the English national team on Jan. 26, but was on the field for UF's opener Feb. 11 at North Carolina. It can typically take close to a year to rehabilitate from a torn ACL. Gilroy had recovered in eight months.

Gilroy said the injury wasn't in the back of her mind when she played her first college game.

“There weren't any concerns,” Gilroy said. “I was probably just nervous at first a lot. Once I got my confidence back, I was able to get back to how I used to play.”

Gilroy has played in 20 of 21 games this season, scoring 39 goals with six assists with a team-high 77 draw controls. She's earned National Rookie of the Week honors three times this season, including this past week following her two-goal, one-assist performance in UF's 15-2 quarterfinal rout of Penn State.

“Shannon is a huge offensive threat so she's going to be helping a lot,” Cullen said. “Syracuse also has a draw specialist on their end, so it will be nice having Shannon going up against her, and hopefully she'll be able to get a lot of draws.”

Gilroy said she's been taking draws since she began playing lacrosse in second grade.

“I know how to take them,” Gilroy said. “I know all the little ins and outs.”

For Gilroy, there is added incentive in UF's first national semifinal lacrosse trip in school history. She will play just 20 minutes from her hometown. Like Stony Brook, N.Y., Northport is a small, scenic town on Long Island's north shore.

Gilroy said she's received hundreds of texts from friends and relatives, wishing her luck. And she expects close to the whole town to come out for Friday's semifinal game against Syracuse on the Stony Brook University campus.

“I'm going to have a bunch of fans there,” Gilroy said. “But those fans are also going to support the whole University of Florida (team). It's going to feel like we're home in Gainesville.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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