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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Syracuse constantly shadowed Florida’s top scoring threat, chasing Kitty Cullen all over the field Saturday.

But as the No. 11 Orange (2-4) soon found out, there’s more than one piece to No. 10 UF’s offense.

Behind a career-high-tying six goals from sophomore Ashley Bruns, the Gators (8-1) scored their second win of the season over a top-15 opponent, beating Syracuse 16-11 at Dizney Stadium.

“You can’t ask for anything more from Ashley,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “She was dominant on the offensive and also on the ride as well. Not really much more to say than she was the driving force today.”

In the first half, Cullen was repeatedly face-guarded by Orange defenders, effectively taking her out of the game. No. 9 Georgetown tried a similar tactic on March 9, but Cullen was still able to net four goals.

Syracuse’s defense found success with the strategy, as Orange defender Becca Block held Cullen, the nation’s leading scorer, without a shot attempt in the first 30 minutes.

“It wasn’t a surprise. Kitty’s been playing very well this season, so I think we knew it was going to come,” Bruns said. “We’ve been working on ways to get her open, setting picks and screens, and it ended up working really well today.”

With one option out of the Gators’ arsenal, the offense centered around Bruns, who tied a school record with her six goals, and fellow midfielder Brittany Dashiell. The pair combined for five first-half goals to give their team a 6-5 lead at the break.

Dashiell was coming off a five-goal game against Colgate and continued her hot streak with three more. The sophomore was also critical in helping Florida win the possession battle, taking all the team’s faceoffs and finishing tied with a game-high four draw controls.

“If you possess the ball, the other team can’t score,” O’Leary said. “For us to get those 18 draws was critical, because we needed possession of the ball. ... If you give them an inch, the ball’s going in the back of the net unfortunately.”

The Gators owned four of the first five possessions in the second half due to Dashiell’s work on faceoffs, allowing the offense to score three goals in two minutes.

As the Orange’s defense scrambled to get set after Florida won control, the Gators finally worked the ball into Cullen, who notched three second-half goals.

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“All seven of our attackers can come in and score,” Dashiell said. “Taking out one player isn’t going to make that big of a difference, so we just used her and used that face-guard to our advantage.”

With Cullen just starting to get involved, Bruns continued her strong play well into the second half. The midfielder had a hand in three straight goals for the Gators, scoring two and dishing out an assist on another.

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