UF WOMEN'S LACROSSE
Gators take confident approach into NCAA tournament
Published: Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 6:51 p.m.
Fresh off their fourth one-goal road win of the year in American Lacrosse Conference play, this one a 9-8 victory in which Florida rallied from a 7-2 halftime deficit to knock off No. 5 Northwestern for the ALC tournament title, the third-ranked Gators open NCAA tournament play Sunday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
Who: No. 20 Denver (19-1) vs. No. 3 Florida (17-2)
Where: Donald R. Dizney Stadium on UF campus
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
“I think it's built some great confidence,” said junior Nora Barry, who scored the game-winner against Northwestern last Sunday with just 32 seconds left to play and was named to the ALC All-Tournament team.
“We are such a young team, but we learned early on that if we fight, we can come out on top in almost any situation. It's something that we've learned to do, just come together and fight together until the end, and that's something that I don't think we were as good at last year. Having that confidence that we can come out on top in those close games can only help us in the NCAAs.”
Florida (17-2), the No. 4 national seed, will take on 20th-ranked Denver (19-1) at 1 p.m. The Pioneers defeated Jacksonville, 12-8, in a first-round match Friday.
The same two programs met at this same point and on this same field last year, with UF moving on with a 16-5 victory.
The young Gators, who have just two seniors and are led by junior Tewaaraton Award finalist and ALC tournament MVP Shannon Gilroy, are tough at home. UF is 9-0 at Dizney Stadium this season and has reeled off 28 consecutive wins on its home turf.
In addition, the Gators enter NCAA play on a season-high nine-game winning streak that includes six victories over ranked teams, highlighted by wins over top-10 squads in each of their last three outings.
“I'm definitely very excited,” said freshman and ALC Rookie of the Year Sammi Burgess. “I think the home-field advantage is going to be a huge thing for us just because we're undefeated here and we have a lot of momentum going into it. It gives us a lot of confidence playing here in front of our fans, and the heat is going to be a huge thing for whoever we play.”
It has already been a magical season for the Gators, who lost 13 seniors from last year's squad, many of whom helped put UF's newest program on the national map early.
“I think the (ALC) tournament win really boosted our confidence a lot,” Burgess said. “Nobody thought we were going to be this good, win our conference and only have two losses going into the NCAAs, or that we would have home-field advantage. It just goes to show that you don't have to be an older team to be successful.”
While among those pleasantly surprised, Florida coach Amanda O'Leary, the ALC Coach of the Year, offered some insight into why this year's team has exceeded expectations.
“I think there's just a camaraderie on this team that is really special,” O'Leary said. “I've been in coaching for a long, long time, and I've had teams that had tremendous team chemistry but weren't necessarily as talented, and I've had teams that were very, very talented but lacked a little bit of team chemistry. I'll tell you what, the teams that have the better team chemistry are going to go further.
“I feel like that's one of the things with this team — not that they're not talented, because they are very talented — but the combination of the fact that they also have this great team cohesion, I think that's what has taken us to places that I certainly didn't anticipate we would be able to go this season.”