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Friday, June 02, 2023

The goal post got in the way of glory for the No. 17 Gators on Saturday.

In the final five seconds of a tie game against No. 3 North Carolina, Florida sophomore Ashley Bruns hurled one last desperation shot at Tar Heels goalkeeper Lauren Maksym.

“I didn’t even think I had enough time to rip the shot off, but yeah, it definitely hit the pipe,” Bruns said.

The near miss would haunt the Gators in overtime.

North Carolina’s leading scorer, senior Corey Donohoe, split two Florida defenders with seven seconds left and capitalized on her final chance to be the day’s hero, downing the Gators 10-9 in overtime.

“We knew she would be the one to take the last shot,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the double team down there fast enough, and that’s something we definitely had to talk about after the game.”

While she wasn’t happy with the way her team handled the final seconds of its upset bid, O’Leary was impressed by Florida’s ability to battle back after it fell behind by three goals in the first 14 minutes.

Florida crumbled against UNC last season when the Tar Heels put on the pressure in the second half with a 12-1 run.

This time around, the Gators returned the favor by going on an 8-3 charge. The run was led by sophomore Kitty Cullen, who scored four goals, including two  in less than a minute.

“Once we finally got the ball, we just focused on keeping a little bit of possession and taking a couple of deep breaths before we went in and tried to start scoring,” Cullen said.

Florida proved throughout the afternoon it has progressed in many of the areas that plagued the team last season against ranked competition.

The Gators had fewer turnovers, more shots and drew even on penalties with the Tar Heels. The glaring issue to O’Leary, though, was how poorly her team reacted to free-position shots, which are comparable to penalty kicks in soccer.

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Florida came up scoreless in four attempts and twice missed the goal altogether, while UNC scored three goals off of nine tries.

“That hurt us. You can’t have those free opportunities at the goal and not take advantage of them,” O’Leary said. “That was one of the things I was most disappointed in. …There’s no excuse.”

Florida practices free shots during every practice, O’Leary said, so she couldn’t understand how it came up short on all of them. Cullen, who had the hot stick on the day, went 0 for 2 on free-position attempts.

As UF goes back to the drawing board before its next game Feb. 16 against Jacksonville, O’Leary said her team’s emotions after this loss differ from last year’s embarrassment.

And the frustration from not getting its first win against a top-five team has turned into anger for many of the players.

“We’re just going to be really excited and will want to go out and just kill them by even more just to show everyone that we are really here this season,” Cullen said.

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