Maryland once again too much for UF lacrosse

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Florida lacrosse coach Amanda O'Leary. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun/File]

Florida repeatedly found itself within striking distance, yet No. 2-ranked Maryland always seemed to have an answer each time Florida threatened to turn the tide.

In the Florida lacrosse team’s home opener, the No. 6-ranked Gators fell 17-12 to Maryland in a battle of powerhouse programs Thursday night at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

“When you come out of the blocks kind of slow, get down 5-0 to a team like this, it’s a little hard to claw your way back,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said, “but really proud of the team for their resilience, coming back. Maryland’s a fantastic team, well-coached and fun to play against. We’ll get back and review some film, take a look at what we need to improve upon.”

UF opened the season with a 16-9 victory at then-No. 17 Colorado after jumping out to an early 7-0 lead, meaning the showdown with the Terrapins marked the commencement of the 2019 season in Gainesville.

But it was the opposition who came out looking comfortable — at least for the opening 10 minutes.

The Terrapins pulled out to an early 5-0 lead before Grace Haus found the net consecutively to momentarily stop the bleeding, then seniors Sydney Pirreca and Lindsey Ronbeck cut the Maryland lead to just a goal.

Maryland’s advantage stood at 7-5 at the midway point — a manageable deficit for the Gators considering the start, with much credit going to UF’s solid defense in the final 20 minutes before halftime, in addition to nine first-half saves by Gators senior goalkeeper Haley Hicklen.

“I think it got us off when we weren’t able to possess the ball. We had some real struggles in the draw circle,” O’Leary said. “But credit them, they did a fantastic job coming up with those 50-50 balls or coming up cleanly with the draw.”

The Gators (1-1) seemed to be the much more comfortable squad once the game restarted, as Ronbeck’s strike just 46 seconds into the second-half action pulled UF within a goal. Yet the Terrapins (2-0) stormed back, responding with a decisive six-goal run to take a 13-6 lead that was too much for the Gators to overcome.

“They never give up. When you score, they’re still always so positive, and I think that’s something that we need to work on a little bit is just every time they get a goal, we have to answer back,” said Ronbeck, who provided eight goals on 14 shots. “It’s pretty hard getting in such a deficit, so early in the season, but our team is so resilient and that showed here tonight.”

Thursday marked the fifth meeting between the programs, with Maryland emerging victorious in each occasion. The Gators strung together a late comeback in 2018 before succumbing 16-14 to the Terrapins. Florida will return to action Saturday at 1 p.m. for an exhibition match with the Scotland national women’s team. Regular-season play continues at No. 9 Loyola on Feb. 23.

“We played against Colorado and did really well in the draw circle. Today we didn’t do so well,” O’Leary said. “It’s hard to get an offense going when you don’t have the ball.”