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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Each time Mikey Meagher takes her place between a pair of familiar orange goalposts, she finds herself up against the odds.

No matter how many shots she saves or how tough she is in goal, Meagher knows the other team’s scorers will eventually find the back of the net.

“I don’t think a lot of people ever want to step into the goal cage in lacrosse,” Florida coach Amanda O’Leary said. “It’s just not a place where too many people want to be.”

The No. 6 Gators (12-1, 3-0 American Lacrosse Conference) will square off against No. 2 Northwestern (12-0, 2-0 ALC) at Dizney Stadium tonight at 6:30 for sole possession of the conference lead. Both teams have goalies ranked in the top 10 in the nation for fewest goals allowed but also feature the NCAA leaders in goals (UF’s Kitty Cullen with 61) and points (NU’s Shannon Smith with 72) to challenge them.

While shutting down prolific scorers like Cullen and Shannon would be a tall task for any goalie, keeping a clean sheet for a whole game has proven to be an elusive accomplishment in women’s lacrosse this season. Through 554 Division-I games, not a single goalie has managed to seal a shutout.

“You just have to be poised and forget about the shot that just went in and worry about the next one,” Meagher said. “Because the more you let yourself get down, it just kind of goes downhill from there.”

As with any team sport, the blame of a goal rarely rests on one player’s shoulders. Meagher was able to grab ALC Defensive Player of the Week honors against Johns Hopkins last Saturday despite giving up 10 goals. With Florida’s offense sputtering for an 11:21 stretch, it was up to the defense to hold firm against the rallying Blue Jays.

“It kind of kept me on my toes to be able to keep going and make the next save,” Meagher said. “When my team’s been there for me multiple times, it was my turn to step up and help them out.”

Faced with wave after wave of JHU attacks, Meagher responded with a school-record 10 saves in the second half after just three in the opening period, staving off the comeback.

“Mikey is an elite goalie for sure,” O’Leary said. “It’s one of those things where she gets out there each and every day, and you can see the improvement.”

The last time a Florida goalie faced the Wildcats, who won five consecutive titles between 2005-2009, she wasn’t able to bring her team back into the game.

After just 30 minutes of last season’s game, the Gators trailed by 14 goals en route to a 19-5 loss.

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“Luckily, Mikey wasn’t in the goal last year. Cara [Canington] was in the goal,” O’Leary said. “So, Mikey’s going to go into this in sort of a different situation since she hasn’t been out there seeing those types of shots from Northwestern just yet. But she will on Thursday night.”

While Meagher now has the advantage of a vastly improved offense behind her, she said the support of Canington has helped her deal with the pressure of playing a position that almost sets her apart from the rest of the team.

“It’s definitely more of an individual position,” Meagher said. “That’s why Cara and I are there for each other every day, letting each other know what’s going on and what we can improve on.”

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