UF lacrosse team falls in NCAA semifinals
Published: Friday, May 25, 2012 at 8:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 25, 2012 at 11:29 p.m.
STONY BROOK, N.Y. — It had the makings for a great story — a hometown player returning to her native Long Island to score the game-winning goal in overtime to lead top-seeded Florida to the NCAA women's lacrosse finals.
Instead, Florida junior Gabi Wiegand's potential landmark goal was waved off due to an illegal stick. Moments later, UF's dream season ended in a stunning 14-13 double-overtime loss Friday to Syracuse at LaValle Stadium.
Syracuse senior midfielder Sarah Holden scored the game-winning goal in sudden death, a high shot past Florida junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher. Florida coach Amanda O'Leary called for a stick check on Holden, but her stick was legal.
After the game, the focus was on Wiegand's stick depth and how it impacted the outcome.
“Unfortunately, stick checks are part of the game,” O'Leary said. “They found it was illegal so we (had to) get back on the defensive end.”
Under lacrosse rules, a stick is declared illegal if no part of the ball is visible over the side wall of the head of the stick. Players can adjust the netting of their sticks by pulling on the drawstrings, but during the course of competition, it's common for them to lose track of pocket depth.
Florida and Syracuse were tied at 13 with 11 seconds left in overtime when Syracuse fouled Wiegand inside the circle. Wiegand scored the apparent free position goal with nine seconds left before Syracuse sophomore Alyssa Murray called for the stick check.
“It was hard for us because we were cheering and excited and we thought we had won the game,” Florida junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell said. “It was unfortunate, but it was smart by Syracuse to call the stick check. Unfortunately, we couldn't do anything about it except keep playing and look to the next play and get the next ground ball and draw control.”
Murray said she had no indication that Wiegand's stick depth was illegal.
“Teams have done it to us, we've done it to teams,” Murray said. “It's just if it's the winning or potential winning goal if there was anything we could do to call it back. We were fighting for our life and felt like that was just something we had to do.”
Syracuse coach Gary Gait had recalled when Florida called for a stick check during the Orange's 13-12 double-overtime win over the Gators during the regular season in March.
“The stick was legal back then and we won the game,” Gait said. “So it's a good point to know you have to be prepared, focused, make sure you are good and play to the end. The good thing is our sticks were legal and everyone was happy. That was a crucial error on their part not to make sure their stick was legal.”
Wiegand, from nearby Bay Shore, N.Y., had invited the team to her house for dinner on Wednesday. Florida remained relaxed and confident throughout the week.
It showed on the field. The Gators built an early 12-5 lead and appeared to be headed for Sunday's national title game.
But Syracuse went on a furious comeback, scoring eight of the game's last nine goals in the final 11:38 to force overtime.
“They were driving hard to the goal,” O'Leary said. “We weren't organized nor did we slide or help on the defensive breakdowns. We needed to come up with important draw controls.”
Florida and Syracuse were an even 16-16 on draw controls. But Syracuse beat Florida on ground balls 19-7.
The Orange also made an adjustment on freshman Shannon Gilroy, who led Florida with five goals.
“In the second half, they heavily pressured us,” Gilroy said. “We had to adjust on that and play together.”
Florida had chances to put the game away, but up 13-10 with three minutes remaining, Gilroy had a breakaway shot stopped by Syracuse goalkeeper Kelse Richardson.
Up 13-12, Florida retained possession with 1:03 left after Syracuse (19-3) had a shot carom off the post. But UF goalkeeper Meagher threw the ball out of bounds on a turnover, allowing Syracuse to retain possession. Syracuse then tied the score at 13 on a free position goal from Holden with 30 seconds remaining, forcing overtime.
“On that throw, I just panicked and unfortunately it was a turnover,” Meagher said. ‘It resulted in a goal in the other end. It's just something I have to learn from personally, take my time. I had time.”
Meagher matched a career-high with 15 saves, including 10 in the first half. It helped UF overcome a sluggish start. But the Gators came on late in the first half. Gilroy scored three straight goals during a 10:15 stretch late in the first half, helping the Gators build a 7-3 halftime lead.
Dashiell added four goals for the Gators, but it wasn't enough to keep Syracuse from making the second-biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history. Virginia rallied from down nine goals in 2007 to beat Duke 14-13.
Florida had its 15 game-winning streak snapped and ended the season 19-3 after reaching the final four in just its third season.
“I'm proud of my team and proud of our season,” O'Leary said.
Syracuse will play the winner of Maryland-Northwestern for the title Sunday.