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Thursday, June 20, 2024

JACKSONVILLE — Early in the first half against Jacksonville, Florida held the commanding lead its players were looking for all week.

After a heartbreaking loss in overtime to No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday, sophomore Kitty Cullen said the No. 17 Gators wanted to “kill” the Dolphins to not only erase their losing record, but to prove a point that they were a quality team.

Cullen and sophomore Caroline Chesterman combined for seven goals in the first 22 minutes against Jacksonville (1-1) on Wednesday night, allowing the Gators (1-1) to sprint out to a running clock at halftime and an 18-9 win.

Point taken.

“They are all enormous offensive threats,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “You might be able to stop one, but you can’t stop the other six. I think that’s what happened tonight.”

Along with a more potent attack, Florida also improved on its free-position shots and draw controls; two area lacking from its season opener last weekend.

Cullen was able to score the Gators’ first free-position shot this year after they previously went 0 for 4, and sophomore Janine Hillier helped remedy UF’s faceoff problems by snagging a team-high three controls.

By the end of the game, the Gators had seven more draws than the Dolphins, which gave Cullen and Chesterman more time to do damage on fast breaks.

“This field is a little shorter, which helped us in transition a lot,” Cullen said. “We were able to get the ball up pretty fast.”

The only way the Dolphins were able to slow down the Gators after intermission was through the referee’s whistle. Florida recorded more than twice as many fouls in the period than Jacksonville did, allowing the home team to take advantage of unguarded penalty shots.

Five of the Dolphins’ six goals in the second half came from free-position shots inside of 12 meters.

Though the Gators played hard late in the game, O’Leary said their aggressiveness was not as controlled as she would have liked it heading into the team’s home opener against Denver on Sunday.

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“They were calling it tight, and I think we just need to recognize that quicker and just start moving our feet and quit swinging,” Cullen said.

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