After opening the season with games against three opponents ranked in the IWLCA top 25, Florida will have a tune-up game of sorts against Jacksonville before hitting the road to play No. 3 North Carolina and No. 7 Syracuse.
However, the No. 6 Gators can’t look past the Dolphins, who opened the season in strong fashion with wins against Michigan and Ohio State.
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JU dropped a game in a blowout to Notre Dame, 17-6, but will play away from home for the first time tonight. Considering it has yet to play a ranked team, this will be the first real test for Jacksonville this season.
Florida (2-1) played the Dolphins (2-1) last February and won 21-14. JU went on to finish the season on a high note, winning four straight games before dropping to USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The team ended its season with a solid 14-6 record.
UF’s confidence is high, coming off a thrilling overtime victory over Loyola on Sunday. The Gators trailed by four goals early in the second half of that game, but fought back to take the game to overtime, where attacker Shayna Pirreca scored the game-winning goal on the opening possession.
But Florida will have to watch out for one Dolphins player in particular: senior midfielder Ashtyn Hiron. The Perth, Western Australia, native has played well through three games, scoring 10 of Jacksonville’s 37 total goals. Her best game came in the season opener against Michigan, where she scored five goals. In JU’s previous game, an overtime victory against Ohio State last Friday, she had four goals.
Hiron – a 2017 first team All-Atlantic Sun member – has 16 draw controls and seven caused turnovers on the season.
Although Hiron will certainly provide a challenge for Florida’s defense, as well as its primary drawtaker in freshman midfielder Shannon Kavanagh, it could be a big day for the Gators’ scoring attack.
Jacksonville’s goalie, Emily Poelma, has struggled mightily through the first three games. She has only 19 saves, compared to UF goalie Haley Hicklen’s 38. Poelma’s save percentage for the season is a paltry .311.
Kavanagh and junior attacker Lindsey Ronbeck each scored four goals in Florida’s 17-16 victory over Loyola on Sunday, and coach Amanda O’Leary will be looking for a similar offensive output from her team against a reeling Dolphins defense.
The Gators will take on JU tonight at 7 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.