GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shannon Gilroy scored seven goals and greatly contributed to Florida’s 18-5 advantage on draw controls to help lead the No. 3 Gators past top-ranked Northwestern 14-7, to claim the first American Lacrosse Conference Tournament title in program history. Florida’s Mikey Meagher made nine stops in the cage, and once again held Northwestern to just seven goals, tying the season-low that the Wildcats scored against Florida earlier this season.
“I’m just really, really proud of this program,” Florida head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “First, I’d really like to thank all of the fans. [Friday] we had more than 1,000 fans here. It was such an amazing momentum builder for us to walk out onto that field and see all of our fans there for us. Again, today, we had amazing support from the community and it just made me really proud to be a Florida Gator. I’d like to thank the fans and community — I’m really proud of our team. They came out and persevered after a tough game [Friday] and played a really solid 60 minutes, and that’s what we asked them to do. I’m really happy.”
The Wildcats have lost just nine games since the start of 2005, three of which have been to the Gators. After capturing the ALC regular-season title with a 8-7 victory against the Wildcats on April 21, Florida did it again, downing NU by its largest margin of defeat since 2003. Additionally, with their two wins against Northwestern this year, the Gators are the first team since the reforming of the Wildcats in the 2002 to defeat the ‘Cats twice in the same season.
Gilroy had a standout performance in the midfield, scoring seven goals, nabbing three draw controls and helping the Gators to dominate on the draw — running to an 18-5 team advantage.
“Shannon is excellent at what she does,” O’Leary said. “She’s a draw specialist. She came up against three players from Northwestern that are all excellent draw takers. If she wasn’t winning it herself, I think we counted on Nora [Barry], Brittany [Dashiell] and Kayla [Stolins] to come up with the balls, and I think they were able to do so.”
Kitty Cullen notched three goals and an assist while Caroline Chesterman put up two goals and an assist.
Gilroy, Brittany Dashiell and Kayla Stolins each had three draw controls, and Stolins, Sam Farrell and Jamie Reeg caused a pair of turnovers apiece. Additionally, Reeg marked 2011 Tewaaraton Award winner Shannon Smith, and ended her nation-leading 62-game scoring streak, holding her without a point for the first time since the 2010 season opener.
“Jamie is a tremendous defender,” O’Leary said. “We typically put her up against the best crease attacker that we’re going to come across and she’s done a fantastic job for us each and every game. She’s solid, she has great footwork and she’s a tall person so she can cover a lot of ground. She’s just really smart. We’ve got a keeper in Jamie.”
Mikey Meagher made nine saves in the game, earning a combined .560 save percentage in the two games of the ALC tournament.
“It’s definitely a good feeling,” Meagher said of being named MVP, “but this is shared with my team. The win wouldn’t have happened without the defense and without Shannon. It’s really a team effort — not an individual one — but I am very happy to receive the award.
Florida did not allow an assist to either opponent in the ALC tournament, and for the second consecutive time against Northwestern, the Gators gave up just two goals from the field with the remaining five coming on free-position plays.
Amanda Macaluso led the Wildcats with three goals in the game, adding two ground balls and a caused turnover. Gabriella Flibotte caused three turnovers and recorded three ground balls, and Taylor Thornton added a pair of goals and two forced TO.
Northwestern’s Brianne LoManto, who led the nation in goals-against average entering the week, made six saves and allowed 11 goals in the first 49:23, and Bridget Bianco gave up the final three goals in the last 10:37.
Kayla Stolins won the opening draw, and just 41 seconds into the game Brittany Dashiell passed up to Caroline Chesterman right in front of the net for the first goal of the game.
Kara Mupo evened score on a free-position goal at 25:08, but back-to-back goals by Gilroy and a pair of free-position goals by Kitty Cullen gave the Gators a 5-1 lead, which they never relinquished the rest of the game.
Taylor Thornton netted a free-position goal at 5:33, but Cullen set up Gilroy in the arc at 3:03 to regain the four-goal lead. Amanda Macaluso notched her first of three on the afternoon with 21 seconds remaining in the first half, but Gilroy got the ensuing draw to Nicole Graziano who sent it back to Gilroy down inside the fan who netted one more before the horn sounded, heading to the locker room with a comfortable 7-3 lead.
Macaluso chipped away at the Gators’ lead early in the second half with a pair of goals in the first seven minutes, but a 3-0 run featuring goals by Dashiell, Chesterman and Cullen gave UF an 11-5 lead with 12:44 to play, pushing an NU comeback nearly out of reach.
The Wildcats scored two of the next three, but a pair of late goals by Gilroy and Barry put it away for the Gators.