Haley Hicklen

Florida goalkeeper Haley Hicklen (29) recorded a career-high 14 saves in UF's season-opening 16-9 win over Colorado on Sunday.

Alligator File Photo

With 8:19 remaining in the first half, Florida held a 7-5 lead over Colorado. Buffaloes attacker Samantha Nemirov sprinted toward the net and released a hard shot in the direction of UF goalkeeper Haley Hicklen. Hicklen reacted quickly, snagging the ball out of the air for a save.

It was one of 14 total saves on the day for the junior — a new career high — as the No. 5 Gators dismantled the No. 16 Buffaloes 16-9 for their first win of the season.

Despite being outshot by Colorado 34-28 and losing in the draw circle 14-13, Florida (1-0) earned the seven-point victory over CU (1-1) due in large part to Hicklen’s performance. When asked about her career day, she deflected credit to the rest of her teammates.

“Props to (the defense),” Hicklen said. “I would not be making as many saves as I make if it weren’t for them.”

Not to be overshadowed by Hicklen’s performance in goal, the Gators’ high-powered offense contributed to the win as well. Attacker Lindsey Ronbeck and midfielder Madi Hall led the way for Florida with three goals each, followed by attacker Shayna Pirreca and midfielder Caroline Benitez with two each.

Colorado came out strong defensively, led by goalkeeper Sophia Gambitsky with seven saves. However, free-position goals cost the Buffaloes tremendously, as five of the Gators’ 16 goals were scored during free-position attempts.

Florida and Colorado traded goals early in the game with four total ties in the first half, but scores from Pirreca, Hall and freshman midfielder Shannon Kavanagh helped the Gators earn a three-point lead over the Buffaloes at the half.

After CU opened the second half strong, narrowing the Gators’ lead to one, Florida promptly rattled off six straight goals to go up 15-8, sealing the victory in a game that was more competitive than the score shows.

Florida also relied heavily on contributions from its freshmen in the victory, with attackers Kassidy Bresnahan and Grace Haus scoring two goals each. Kavanagh, another freshman, won eight draw controls in addition to scoring a goal and an assist.

“I was so pleased with our freshmen,” UF coach Amanda O'Leary said. “They did a fantastic job. To see them compete at this level… bodes well for the future.”

UF will have five days off to prepare for its next matchup with No. 1 Maryland on Saturday. While a convincing victory over a top-20 team in Colorado was certainly the start to the season the Gators were looking for, their younger players will need to continue to assimilate to the rest of the team if Florida is going to reach its top-five potential.

But Hicklen said that when UF takes the field, there is no difference between freshmen and seniors.

“We’re all teammates,” Hicklen said. “We’re all out there for the same reason. I have all the confidence in the world in every single person on this team.”

Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno and contact him at [email protected].

Tyler Nettuno is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida lacrosse team. He has previously covered UF men's and women's golf. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.