Gators face Buckeyes in ALC semis
Published: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 9:32 p.m.
Second-ranked Florida takes the first step toward what is hoped will be a second straight American Lacrosse Conference Tournament title when the Gators (16-1, 4-1) square off against Ohio State in a semifinal match in Baltimore, Md., Friday at 4 p.m.
“We're really excited about the postseason,” UF head coach Amanda O'Leary said. “It's always an adventure going into the conference championship. It's a lot of fun, and our team gets really up for it.”
The Buckeyes (8-9, 1-4), the No. 5 seed, advanced by downing No. 4 seed Johns Hopkins, 10-9, in the first of two quarterfinal matches Thursday, knocking the host Blue Jays out of the tournament.
Florida, the No. 1 seed and defending tournament champion, defeated Ohio State, 13-7, in Gainesville in their regular-season meeting. UF and No. 2 seed Northwestern each received byes into the semifinals.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats (15-2, 4-1), the defending national champions, will square off against No. 3 seed Penn State (12-5, 4-1) in Friday's second semifinal at 6:30 p.m. The Nittany Lions edged No. 6 seed Vanderbilt, 16-14, in Thursday's second quarterfinal.
While Johns Hopkins' historic Homewood Field is a long way from the UF campus, a large number of Gator players are from Baltimore and the surrounding area.
“It will be like a homecoming for them,” O'Leary said. “I think it's nice for them because they'll get to spend some time with their families and friends.”
In fact, two of UF's top players, senior All-Americans Kitty Cullen, the ALC Offensive Player of the Year, and Brittany Dashiell, the ALC Midfielder of the Year, are from nearby Rockville and Bel Air, respectively.
“It's definitely going to be tough because we have a huge bull's-eye on our back, but all of us are going to be close to home, so I think that we'll be able to have a lot of fans cheering us on,” Cullen said. “That will definitely be something that will help a lot.”
Florida hasn't played since blasting defending national champion Northwestern, 22-4, in the regular-season finale two weeks ago.
“It's a tough time for everyone right now academically and athletically with exams and everything,” O'Leary said. “Trying to juggle all that is a challenge, but I will say our team has done a great job with that. They come out every day ready for practice, ready to compete and compete hard. They're ready to beat up on somebody other than themselves.”
The Gators are understandably excited, especially the seniors who started the program and each year have gotten better and advanced further in NCAA play, having reached their first Final Four last year.
“It just comes down to us focusing on ourselves instead of the other teams, really,” Cullen said. “It‘s all about teamwork and playing together as one big unit instead of a bunch of individual players. That's why we've been so successful this year.”
With their opponent undetermined when the Gators left town Wednesday, they stuck to the basics in practice.
“It's hard to prepare when you don't know who your opponent is going to be, so you just go out and do the things you need to do for your own team,” said O'Leary, the ALC Coach of the Year for the second time. “We've been working offensively on just our plays and defensively just going into some looks that we might have to use.”
The championship match is Sunday at noon.
“I think it would be huge,” O'Leary said of winning another title. “Anytime you can win your conference championship, it means something, especially to a team like this with so many seniors. It would be a nice way for them to exit.”
All tournament matches are being streamed live at www.hopkinssports.com/allaccess/, while audio of UF matches will be provided on www.GatorZone.com.