Youthful Gators make next step
Florida defeats Penn State 15-2 to advance to national semis
Florida defeated Penn State 15-2 in the NCAA quarterfinals Saturday to advance to the national semifinals.
With the win, the Gators improve to 19-2 on the season, and will face fourth-seeded Syracuse (18-3) on Friday night in Stony Brook, N.Y., in the national semifinals.
|DI WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP|
Penn State, who came in looking for its first semifinals appearance since 1999, ends the year at 12-7.
“I’m really proud of our program, the players, the coaches, the support staff,” head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “This was a monumental win for us. We’ve been preparing for this since we lost to Duke in this same round last year. These young ladies have put in so much hard work. They have the heart, they have the passion and I thought it really showed today.
“This was 60 minutes of great lacrosse for Florida. I thought our players across the board defensively, in the goal cage, through the midfield, in the attacking end, absolutely I thought this was one of our best efforts.”
Tewaaraton Award finalist Brittany Dashiell led the Gators’ balanced offense with three goals and two assists on the day. Nora Barry also notched three goals, and Ashley Bruns, Shannon Gilroy and Kitty Cullen each put up two goals and an assist. Additionally, freshman Taylor McCord scored the final goal of the game in her first career postseason appearance.
Gilroy dominated on the draw once again, leading the Gators with six draw controls and helping the team to a 15-4 team advantage on draws. With Gilroy in the circle, the Gators have had a 43-11 edge on draw controls during the past three games.
“When the ball is up in the air, we’re pretty confident [Shannon]’s going to come up with it,” O’Leary said. “When it’s on the wings we have Kayla [Stolins] and Brittany [Dashiell]. We have solid group of attackers on the back line and a solid group of defenders who can also compete for those ground balls. Again, draw controls are just so critical because whoever possesses the ball has the opportunity to score.
“I think Shannon’s a huge part of that, but I also think that we are maturing through that competitiveness that if there’s a ground ball or if the ball is in the air, I see these guys with a hunger of want to get that ground ball and wanting to get that ball in the air, and I think that’s one of the biggest improvements to our game.”
Barry was strong in the midfield, earning three draw controls and three ground balls, and Haydon Judge and Bruns each caused a pair of turnovers.
Mikey Meagher stopped seven shots and allowed just two goals as the Gators held PSU to just nine shots on goal in the game. ALC Goalie of the Year Dana Cahill made 13 saves in the cage for Penn State, but UF’s offense put up 34 shots on the day, as Cahill retires with a 22-15 career record.
“I credit Penn State with their fantastic game plan,” O’Leary said. “They came in here, worked hard, they were gritty, they were scrappy. Offensively, they kept us on our heels. Defensively, I thought Dana Cahill did a fantastic job in the goal cage so I just want to credit them with a game very well played.
Haley Ford and Carney scored the Nittany Lions’ two goals and Mackenzie Cyr notched their sole assist. Freshman Tatum Coffee challenged in the midfield, earning two ground balls, a draw control and a caused turnover.
Gilroy got the ball rolling just over two minutes in, beating out a one-on-one drive and putting the ball into the top left corner of the net. Less than a minute later, Gilroy was fouled at the top of the fan and scored goal number two to give Florida a quick, 2-0 lead.
Ford netted a crossing shot for the Nittany Lions at 22:46, but Florida followed with a 5-0 run featuring a pair of goals each from Dashiell and Bruns to power ahead, 7-1.
“It’s definitely a huge boost and a huge spark,” said Cullen on making a big run. “Mikey will make a save at one end and it will get us more pumped up and want to score and keep scoring; and once you score once and get the ball again, you just want to keep going and keep going, because then we’re going to get up by even more.”
Mackenzie Cyr set up Carney from the point at 6:03 to get one back for Penn State, but Cullen put one up with 23 seconds remaining in the half to enter the break holding a solid, 8-2 lead.
The Gators defense was lights out in the second half, keeping the Nittany Lions off the board for the final 36 minutes of play, marking just the fifth time in NCAA tournament history that a team has been held scoreless in the second half.
“The defense is incredible,” said Meagher, “Every game, they just get better. To have those seven in front of me, I love them. You can’t ask for anything more of them, because they just go out with such heart and hustle every single game and no matter what they do, I know they have my back and I have theirs.”
UF’s attackers found the back of the net seven times in the second half, with the final four goals of the game coming from Gator rookies Barry, Nicole Graziano and McCord, to earn a final score of 15-2.
“I think it’s exciting and it’s wonderful,” O’Leary said of the team’s accomplishment, “but I think its more of a testament to the University of Florida, Jeremy Foley, to these young ladies, to our coaching staff, to our support staff, because it’s a whole group of individuals. Its just not one person that decides that we’re going to make it to the Final Four, it starts at the top and it goes all the way down and I think these guys have bought into our system.”
The Gators will hit the road for Stony Brook this week to face fourth-seeded Syracuse (18-3) in the national semifinals on Friday, May 25. The Orange defeated fifth-seeded North Carolina on Saturday 17-16, as Tewaaraton finalist Michelle Tumolo put up the game-winner with just five seconds remaining in regulation.