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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Although Fairfield isn’t the most highly touted team on Florida’s schedule, tonight’s matchup against the unranked Stags will still be the Gators’ tallest test.

With eight players over 5-foot-9, including three who are 5-foot-11 or taller, Fairfield has a height advantage over every team No. 9 Florida (8-1) will play this year. The Stags (5-3) will try to use this edge to key an upset tonight at 6:30 in Dizney Stadium.

By contrast, Florida’s two tallest players, freshman Kelsey Dlugos and sophomore Natalie Melaniff, are 5-foot-9.

“Fairfield does a great job in spreading out defenses,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “It’s exactly what Syracuse did to us on Saturday — they spread our defenders out — so we’re going to have to come in with a simpler game plan.”

All of the Stags’ towering athletes play either midfield or attacking positions. Led by 5-foot-10 sophomore Chloe Mangan’s 17 goals, the group accounts for 51 percent of Fairfield’s offense with 42 goals and 23 assists.

While the Stags have been able to use their size as an advantage against other teams, Florida midfielder Sam Farrell isn’t shying away from the task of guarding taller players. Instead, the 5-foot-8 sophomore said she thrives in it.

“Personally, I like playing taller people, since I’m taller,” Farrell said. “I feel like the shorter people are a lot harder to defend. But overall, we’re just going to have to practice holding our bodies and holding our space and not letting people go through us.”

Fairfield’s offense is diverse like Florida’s, but not as prolific. The Stags have six players with double-digit goals this season, though none have reached the 20-goal mark like Florida’s Kitty Cullen (39 goals), Ashley Bruns (26) and Brittany Dashiell (23).

Part of this is due to Fairfield having to adjust to life without 5-foot-11 senior Kristen Coleman, the school record holder in goals, assists and points, who went down in a preseason practice with a season-ending leg injury.

The Gators have recently shown the importance of having multiple scorers who can take over a game. When Cullen was limited by Syracuse’s defense in a 16-11 win on March 19, Bruns was able to come through for Florida with a seven-point performance, earning her National and American Lacrosse Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors.

“More than us being marked up on a specific girl, we’re going to have to know their entire team offense, and we’re going to have to play more of a team defense in order to stop them,” sophomore defender Emily Dohony said.

Along with the lack of an individual scoring threat, the Stags have been limited by turnovers. Through eight games, they have 120 giveaways, 31 more than the Gators have committed in nine games.

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“Definitely in the ride, when they’re carrying the ball up the field, we’ll pressure them all over,” Farrell said. “If they aren’t as good with the ball, that’ll help us a lot with getting possession.”

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