Gator lacrosse advances past Denver
Published: Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 5:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 13, 2013 at 3:02 a.m.
Facing high-scoring Denver, Florida knew it had to be at its best defensively in its NCAA women's lacrosse championship second-round matchup.
NCAA Elite Eight, No. 5 seed Florida at No. 4 seed Syracuse
The Gators responded with a smothering defensive effort in the 16-5 win over the Pioneers on Sunday afternoon at Dizney Stadium.
Florida held Denver to its fewest goals in the first half this season to build a 12-1 halftime lead.
“It was just a total team effort out there defensively,” Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said. “I thought we communicated well, we slid well on the double (teams). So really, really pleased with our defensive effort today.”
Offensively, Florida was paced by five goals from senior attacker Kitty Cullen and four more goals from sophomore midfielder Shannon Gilroy.
With an experienced squad of 13 seniors, Florida is looking to reach the final four for the second straight season.
“We just want to go out and make sure we don't have any regrets when we leave this place,” Cullen said. “We don't want to be able to look back and wonder if there's anything else we could have done in order to be successful. So I think we're just putting everything out there on the field this postseason and we're hoping we're going to be able to reach our goals.”
Florida (18-2) came out with a sense of urgency early, scoring five goals in the first 6:54 of the game to build an early 5-1 lead. Cullen and Gilroy started the scoring with unassisted goals, and Ashley Bruns scored on a free position shot.
Averaging just more than 14 goals per game, the Pioneers (18-3) advanced to face Florida following a 14-7 win over Jacksonville on Friday. But Denver couldn't match Florida's speed throughout the first half. Bruns' 50th goal of the season put Florida up 10-1. Cullen added an unassisted goal and Gilroy scored on an assist from Brittany Dashiell to put Florida up 12-1 at halftime.
Denver scored a pair of quick goals early in the second half, cutting Florida's lead to 12-3 on a free position shot by Mikayala Clark with 25:28 remaining.
“We calmed down a little bit,” Denver coach Liza Kelly said. “I think this was a big stage for us in our second (postseason) game ever as a program. Florida is a little more seasoned than that, having been to a final four. I think Florida is hands down the best team we've played all season. Walking into a big stage against a good opponent … I wish it hadn't taken us 30 minutes to calm down a little bit. But I think we recognized it was just lacrosse and that we could play the game.”
But Florida maintained ball control throughout the second half. The Gators bested Denver 16-7 on draw controls, which were an issue in UF's 8-3 ALC Tournament finals loss to Northwestern last week. Northwestern topped Florida 10-3 on draw controls.
“All week we worked on sending more than one to the ball off of the draw and we did exactly that,” O'Leary said. “We sent two, three and four and I think it certainly paid off.”
Senior Mikey Meagher also had another strong effort in goal with nine saves, including a kick save in the first half.
“Mikey came up really big for us in the goal cage,” O'Leary said.
No. 5 seed Florida will next play at No. 4 seed Syracuse in the NCAA Elite Eight. The Orange advanced with a 21-8 win over Dartmouth on Sunday afternoon. Syracuse ended Florida's season with a 14-13 double-overtime win over the Gators in the national semifinals last May, but the Gators avenged the loss with a 14-10 win over the Orange in March in Miami.