In the Gators’ last two games, the offense won the accolades, but it was the defense that anchored the victories.
With a mixture of high-pressure defense and relentless pursuit from sophomores Jaime Reeg and Sam Farrell, No. 17 Florida (2-1) has been able to limit each team it has faced this season to single-digit shot attempts in the first half.
“Jaime and Sam are physically strong. They have great feet. They’re quick, and they’re agile,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “They’re just two really big and strong young ladies who can move along the 8-meter arc with ease.”
Florida has caused six more turnovers than its competition in three games, creating more free possessions for the offense and sophomore Kitty Cullen, the American Lacrosse Conference Offensive Player of the Week.
The Gators had 15 shots on goal in the first half against Denver on Sunday but only allowed three on defense.
Reeg said the disparity between shots has been keyed by the team’s preparation for its opponent’s best player. Florida limited the Pioneers’ leading scorer, attacker Kara Secora, to just one shot the entire game.
“The coaches really lay it out, what each player does, so we know what to expect when each one passes the ball, like whether one does a lot of backdoors, drives from the top or crease rolls,” Reeg said.
Florida will look for more of the same defensive intensity against Maryland Baltimore County today at 6:30 p.m. at Dizney Stadium.
The Retrievers (1-0) defeated George Mason 19-7 on Feb. 11 after jumping out to an 11-goal lead before halftime.
It remains to be seen if UMBC can produce the same offensive output against the Gators on the road. Their win 12 days ago came at the expense of a Patriots team that went 3-14 last year.
O’Leary said she has seen Florida not only perform at a higher level defensively with each game, but also communicate better on the field due to Reeg and Farrell’s leadership.
“Our communication improved, and we just trust each other so much more,” Farrell said. “We’re not hesitant to take risks because we know we’ll have our teammates to back us up and to slide. We just really trust each other now.”
Part of the reason the Gators have been able to take so many risks has been other teams’ talent level, Farrell said.
The defense has enjoyed competing against two consecutive offenses that play at a slower pace, with fewer fast breaks and drives down the center of the field. If a team tries to dump the ball inside the 12-meter arc, Farrell and the defense are waiting.
“When we see them go to goal, we send our double [team],” Farrell said. “We really closed our doubles, which made them, I guess, intimidated and they’d pull out and pass it over.”