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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Through the first nine days of the season, the only team able to stop Kitty Cullen has been her own.

When the Gators practice, Cullen said her teammates already know all her moves. They can check her speed and regularly stop her from scoring by clamping down with double teams.

At Dizney Stadium on Sunday, Denver (0-2) wasn’t able to implement any of No. 17 Florida’s (2-1) techniques to stop Cullen, and the Pioneers paid for it with a 15-7 loss.

For the third game in a row, Cullen has scored at least four goals. Her six against Denver upped her season total to 14 goals and tied her single-game school record from last year.

“Kitty’s a special player, and she stands alone,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “Her speed is a humongous asset to her. She just can really dodge well, and she’s finishing (plays) this year, which she struggled a little bit with last year.”

Cullen’s shot efficiency has improved from last season by more than 40 percent through three games. In matchups last year against Jacksonville, LaSalle and North Carolina, she scored goals off only 20 percent of her shots. Against two of the same three teams (UNC and JU) this season, Cullen is up to 61 percent.

In the first 17 minutes against Denver, the Gators’ offense flowed through Cullen and attacker Ashley Bruns. One of the players either scored or assisted on five of Florida’s first six goals.

But as Cullen had her hand in the bulk of the Gators’ goals, Bruns did most of her damage throughout the afternoon dishing the ball. The sophomore had a team-high four assists, along with three goals of her own.

The defense also chipped in early for Florida, causing four turnovers on each of the Pioneers’ first four possessions. O’Leary said it was the most complete game she has seen from the group so far, as the Gators held an opponent under nine points for the first time this season.

“We have such a great defense, and they worked together so well, and they played to each other’s strengths,” Cullen said. “It’s so helpful when they’re able to get it up to us like that so we can run a fast break.”

But after Cullen scored her sixth goal of the day and stretched the Gators’ lead to 15-3, Florida replaced most of its starting back line and let four consecutive Pioneers goals zip past Meagher.

“We clearly could have done a lot better,” sophomore Colby Rhea said. “We let some goals in that we shouldn’t have, but I think that it’s a good starting point for us, and I think we’re just going to learn from here.”

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