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Saturday, March 25, 2023

With a top-10 clash against Northwestern looming just a week away, the Gators are using the motivation of a grudge match and another team’s trash talk to stay focused against Johns Hopkins this weekend.

Last season, the Blue Jays became the first conference foe to beat the Gators with a commanding 16-8 victory in Baltimore. Later in the year, at the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament, Florida returned the favor with a 14-3 win of its own.

“We want revenge from that first game last year,” sophomore Colby Rhea said. “But we’re also not going to let our guard down because it’s a new year. I think we’re all very pumped because they’ve said a lot of mean things about us.”

On Saturday at 1 p.m. in Dizney Stadium, No. 6 Florida (11-1, 2-0 ALC) will get its chance to one-up Johns Hopkins (7-4, 0-1 ALC) and go for a conference-leading third win.

Through eight weeks of the season, UF and No. 2 Northwestern remain the only unbeaten ALC teams in conference play.

“It’s been awesome. I always knew we could do it,” Rhea said. “But on any day, any team can win, so we need to keep that in mind. But I think we can win it all this year.”

UF coach Amanda O’Leary said she has marveled at the maturity her sophomore-laden team has displayed this season.

“This team, as I’ve said before, has a different mind set,” O’Leary said. “They’re coming out, each and every game, I think more enthused, more challenged, and they’re sort of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that they have the potential to really go far.”

With a win against then-No. 4 Pennsylvania and one-goal losses to teams ranked in the top 15, the Blue Jays are clearly an upset-minded team able to slow ranked opponents with their 11th-best scoring defense.

Just don’t expect them to wow the Gators offensively.

Behind a nation-leading 56 goals by Kitty Cullen and seven straight scoring days from Caroline Chesterman, Florida has scored 51 more goals than Johns Hopkins this season.

Although the Gators might be without one of their starting midfielders as sophomore Brittany Dashiell recovers from a concussion, Chesterman is confident the team can fill in for its third-leading scorer and top draw-control specialist.

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“It’s not the first time someone else has been out,” Chesterman said. “People responded to that, too. I think it really shows the character of our team.”

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