As Amanda O’Leary coached Florida’s women’s lacrosse team to a two-goal victory over Penn State last season, she couldn’t help but think back to 1988.
After all, when she played for Temple, a victory over her in-state rival was always a big moment in the 1980s women’s lacrosse world.
The Owls and the Nittany Lions were the ruling powerhouses that combined for two national championships during O’Leary’s four years in Philadelphia.
“That was a huge rivalry for us, way back in the dark ages of women’s lacrosse … when the cave people walked the Earth,” O’Leary said, jokingly. “A lot of Pennsylvania players either chose to go to Temple or to Penn State. So, it was not only just a huge in-state rivalry; it was in high schools.”
The Gators (10-1, 1-0 American Lacrosse Conference) will get another chance to face their coach’s collegiate rival and their current conference foe in University Park, Pa., against No. 16 Penn State (6-4, 1-0 ALC) on Saturday at noon.
In her playing days from 1985-1988, O’Leary lost only five times. Three of those defeats were at the hands of the Nittany Lions, including the 1987 national championship when Temple fell 8-7.
Though O’Leary would avenge her gut-wrenching loss to the Nittany Lions a year later with a 15-7 win in the title game, capping off a 19-0 senior campaign, she wouldn’t get a chance to face Penn State for the next 22 years.
That is, until last season.
With a 13-11 win over the Nittany Lions in Gainesville on April 3, 2010, the Gators helped O’Leary grab another win over her collegiate rival. Although it was her fifth victory over Penn State, the experience still had a novel feeling.
“As a player, it’s, ‘Ah, this team, we’ve got to beat this team.’ Whereas it’s just a conference rivalry as a coach, so it’s a little different,” O’Leary said. “But just last year, it was the first conference win, so I think that’s why it was so epic and why it was so memorable.”
This year’s matchup looks to be even tougher, with Penn State currently on a five-game winning streak after a 1-4 start. Two of those wins have been against ranked opponents, including an ALC win over No. 13 Vanderbilt on March 20.
“We not only have the challenge of them being another ALC team, but also the challenge of going on the road again since we haven’t been traveling since the beginning of February,” sophomore Kitty Cullen said.
The Gators’ attack, led by Cullen’s NCAA-best 49 goals, will be going against the best statistical defense they have faced all season. The Nittany Lions have the nation’s sixth-best scoring defense and have held opponents to single-digit scoring in each of their last five games.
“It would definitely not only be good to beat them two years in a row, but to also show that we are a premier team in the ALC and that we want one of those top seeds in the tournament,” Cullen said.