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Sunday, June 04, 2023

Don’t call it a setback.

With less than three days before the Gators’ conference opener, sophomore Ashley Bruns was adamant her team would put a miserable second half against Fairfield behind it as soon as it set foot on the practice field.

“It’s not going to happen against Ohio State,” she said.

After building up a huge lead and a running clock against the Stags on Wednesday, the Gators came out flat in the last 30 minutes and were outscored 5-3.

While their 15-7 win remained safe, the Gators’ effort late in the game was disconcerting for a team on the verge of a five-game American Lacrosse Conference slate, which kicks off Saturday at noon against the Buckeyes (5-3).

“This is a really, really tough conference and one that we’re going to have to play two solid halves to compete with any of those teams,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said.

The key for Florida moving forward will be to stick with its offensive identity for an entire game, O’Leary said. Too often against Fairfield, midfielders strayed out of position and took poor shots, leading to a pair of 10-minute scoring droughts on offense.

“The players tried some new things, it wasn’t necessarily in our game plan much,” she said.

The Gators shot 30 percent in the second half against the Stags, nearly the same percentage as when they faced the Buckeyes in a 14-9 loss last season. The unit hasn’t got any easier to crack this year, as it has limited opponents to single-digit goals in all but two games.

One spark for Florida heading into Saturday could come in the form of sophomore Hayley Katzenberger, who snagged her first career start on Wednesday. The midfielder took the bulk of the Gators’ faceoffs against Fairfield and scored twice.

“Hayley did a fantastic job on the draw. She’s strong, she’s fast and she added some speed in our attacking end,” O'Leary said. “She’s been practicing really well, so she certainly earned that opportunity.”

Bruns also lauded Katzenberger’s ability to beat defenses in the ride and her quickness in the midfield. The new starter meshed well with the offense as the game progressed, with Bruns setting her up on her second goal off a foul reset.

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Katzenberger now has four goals and an assist in seven games played this season after working her way back in the lineup after missing last year with an injury.

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