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Monday, June 24, 2024

Spring break came a week early for the No. 14 Gators, but they weren’t spending it at the beach.

Instead, the team hit the practice field hard for the first time since the preseason during its 10-day interval between competitions. Fielding ground balls and working on fundamentals, Florida reenergized itself for another busy week, one featuring three games in eight days.

“This week was tough with the combination of school, lacrosse and preparing for Lehigh, but next week is going to be tough as well,” sophomore Ashley Bruns said.  “No spring break.”

A 16-6 victory at home over Maryland Baltimore County on Feb. 23 springboarded a buzzing Gators offense into the break, which ends tomorrow with a match against Lehigh (2-1) in Dizney Stadium at 1 p.m.

Sophomore Kitty Cullen leads the nation in goals with 19, while Bruns is in the top 15 in assists and points.

Last season, Bruns was Florida’s dominant scorer with a team-high 48 goals. But this season, the sophomore has developed more of a point guard mentality, dishing out passes and assists, as Cullen comes into her own.

“I love assisting; it’s actually my favorite thing to do,” Bruns said. “I had a lot last year, and, you know, if I can’t make the goals this year, that’s fine, because there are so many other things I can do to help out my teammates.”

With Bruns setting her up, Cullen has flourished as a scorer. UF coach Amanda O’Leary has credited the midfielder’s improved shooting percentage (34 percent in 2010 to 59 percent this year) to the stick and finishing skill work done by Gators assistant coaches Erica Lagrow and Caitlyn McFadden.

“I used to just try to shoot as hard as I could, and now, my coaches have kind of taught me that you have to also look where you’re shooting,” Cullen said. “It’s more about placement than power.”

The Gators have tallied 79 points this season, the ninth-most in Division-I. The diversity in the team’s offense has been critical in its early success, Bruns said. The attacker has been able to spread her seven assists between six different scorers.

The Mountain Hawks will also feature a potent scoring threat when they come to Gainesville on Saturday, O’Leary warned.

Lehigh’s senior Lauren Dykstra is averaging four goals per game for a team fresh off a 16-goal performance.

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“They have a tremendous offensive player, Lauren Dykstra, who we’re going to need to clearly shut down,” O’Leary said. “She is very, very good and has the potential to put a lot of balls in the back of the net.”

After Lehigh, Florida has two additional home games over spring break: March 9 against No. 6 Georgetown and three days later against Temple.

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