Gators’ lacrosse looks to advance to final four, travel to Syracuse

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
Shannon Kavanagh, left, is a Florida team leader.

Opportunity knocks this weekend for the Florida lacrosse team to take down a giant.

The Florida lacrosse team treks to the Empire State on Saturday to play one of its biggest games in program history.

The sixth-seeded Gators will battle third seed Syracuse at 2 p.m. today with coverage on ESPN3.

“I think we are really peaking as a team right now,” senior Shannon Kavanagh said. “We’re bringing it from all levels, from the bench to the defensive attack with the midfield.”

A win would move UF (18-2) into the national semifinals of the women's lacrosse tournament for just the second time in school history.

The first came in 2012, when the Gators finished 19-3, but their dream season was dashed by Syracuse, which lost in the national championship game that campaign.

The Orange rank as one of the most dominant teams in the sport, appearing in seven final fours and two national championships. However, it’s yet to win a national championship.

Seven players for the Orange (15-3) tallied more than 20 points, compared to eight for Florida. Junior Meaghan Tyrrell leads Syracuse in goals (59), assists (37) and points (96). She was named All-Northeast Region First Team, along with junior Megan Carney.

The two form a dynamic scoring duo, as Carney finished second on the team in goals (49) and points (69), despite missing the last five games of the season.

The battle for draw control should be a close one. Kavanagh faces the combination of Ella Simkins and Katelyn Mashewske, who’ve combined for 137 DCs.

“They are an outstanding offensive team,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “They’ve put up a lot of goals this season. They play a unique defense which we haven’t seen yet this season, so I think we have to be patient, which is tough for this run-and-gun team.”

The Orange enter Saturday’s game more battle-tested than Florida. They maintained a 9-3 record against ranked opponents, including seven wins vs. top-10 opponents.

Their most impressive materialized in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, a 19-17 win over No. 4 Boston College, which avenged an earlier season loss to the Eagles.

Syracuse’s other two losses occurred against No. 1 UNC, both on the road.

The Gators, meanwhile, are 3-1 against ranked teams and only faced one top-10 team, a 11-5 loss to the Tar Heels.

UF and SU are no strangers. They’ve met 11 times, with 'Cuse holding the 7-4 edge and 3-1 advantage in the Carrier Dome.

Saturday’s game will be played at the Syracuse Soccer Stadium, though, as the Carrier Dome is hosting commencement ceremonies. O’Leary said the move benefits Florida.

“It’s our natural surface that we are used to playing on,” she said. “So, it can kind of feel like home for us.”

The team’s last matchup happened March 13, 2019, a 14-13 Syracuse win in Gainesville.

“We are running on all cylinders right now. They are playing their best lacrosse of the season,” O’Leary said. “We saw that this past weekend, and overall, it’s just been a different level of focus. It’s so fun to watch and coach.”

The semifinals begin May 28 at Towson University at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Maryland. They will be shown live on ESPNU at noon and 2 p.m. ET. The championship game will air live on ESPNU Sunday, May 30 at noon.