When the Gators lacrosse team hit the road to take on a Tar Heels squad that was coming off a win against the nation’s previous top-ranked team, the Maryland Terrapins, it expected a hard-fought 60 minutes.

That is not how it played out.

From the opening draw to the final horn, UF controlled the game, eventually knocking off No. 3 UNC 17-10.

“I’m incredibly proud of this group for their effort and enthusiasm today,” Gators coach Amanda O’Leary said in a release. “To play at North Carolina and come away with a win is a great milestone for this team.”

It’s the biggest win of the season so far for No. 6 Florida (4-1). North Carolina (3-2) boasted the country’s fifth best scoring offense heading into the game, averaging 16.75 goals per game. But the Gators shut the Tar Heels’ scoring attack down, holding it to a season-low 10 goals.

Junior UF goalie Haley Hicklen continues to outdo herself, this time notching 16 saves, a new school record.

“Haley (Hicklen) was phenomenal in the cage today,” O’Leary said.

Hicklen wasn’t the only Gator to play the best game of her career.

Senior attacker Shayna Pirreca set a new career high with six goals. She also caused a turnover in the victory.

Florida opened the game with four consecutive goals and held North Carolina scoreless for nearly 15 minutes of play. By the time senior midfielder Marie McCool broke the shutout for the Tar Heels on a free-position goal, the damage had already been done.

Junior attacker Lindsey Ronbeck – who had five goals Saturday afternoon – answered back for Florida. After that, North Carolina was never within two goals of the Gators.

UNC’s junior goalie Ellie Hennessey struggled mightily from the start. She gave up nine goals in the first half and only made one save. Her save percentage was .100. As the Tar Heels trailed the Gators 9-5 at halftime, North Carolina coach Jenny Levy decided to make a change.

Hennessey was pulled in favor of redshirt freshman Taylor Moreno to begin the second half. Though Moreno performed better than Hennessey – giving up only eight goals with five saves – it was not enough to mount a second-half comeback for North Carolina. For the first time this season, UNC was defeated at home.

The Tar Heels outshot the Gators 39-29 and dominated in the draw circle 20-9, but Hicklen’s record-setting performance prevented the North Carolina scoring attack from capitalizing on its possessions.

Now, Florida will prepare for its second and final game of its Spring Break road stretch against No. 7 Syracuse. The first time Florida played a top-10 team this year against then-No. 1 Maryland, it came frustratingly close to pulling off the upset but eventually lost by two goals.

Now, after dismantling the top-five Tar Heels on their home field, Florida’s confidence could be higher than ever heading into its matchup with the Orange at the Carrier Dome Wednesday afternoon.

For now, O’Leary is proud of her team for playing its best overall game of the season.

“We did a terrific job starting the game focused and ready to play,” she said. “It was a complete and total team victory.”

Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno and contact him at tnettuno@alligator.org.