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Friday, March 31, 2023

The Gators’ offense followed Friday’s record-breaking performance with an equally dominant showing Sunday.

But their defense was even more overwhelming.

No. 4 Florida won its fourth straight game as it held Detroit to just 13 shots in a 22-3 win at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

“We played really well,” junior defender Jamie Reeg said. “We kept it going the whole 60 minutes. We never let down.”

The 10 shots on goal and three goals for the Titans were both season lows for a UF opponent.

The Gators’ impressive defensive effort came in the absence of 2011 All-ALC First Team defender Sam Farrell, who sat out for precautionary reasons after being hit in the top of the head by a ball during warm-ups.

“I was really happy though with how our defense responded without her,” O’Leary said. “She is a critical player in our defensive unit and one of the leaders back there.”

O’Leary praised freshmen midfielders Nicole Graziano and Nora Barry, who combined for five ground balls, for their help on the defensive end.

One of the most impressive sequences for the Florida defense came at the beginning of the second half when Gators freshman midfielder Shannon Gilroy controlled the initial draw.

Titans defender Morgan Lear intercepted Gilroy’s ensuing pass and took the ball inside Florida’s 8-meter arc.

Detroit maintained possession until the 26:43 mark, and the only shot it was able to get off the entire possession was a free-position shot that was saved by junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher.

O’Leary said the defense had worked on not getting too anxious when teams held the ball for long periods of time like the Titans did to begin the second half, and she was pleased with how the defenders handled those situations.

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That improved discipline resulted in the Gators playing their cleanest game of the season. Florida committed a season-low 16 fouls and did not receive a yellow card for the first time this season, avoiding any man-down situations.

“We normally get stupid yellow cards that we don’t need,” Reeg said. “So for this game we focused on not swinging as much.”

The UF defense was also able to convert 16 of 20 clearance attempts.

Gators’ junior attacker Gabi Wiegand finished with a game-high four goals on five shots and two assists, with her first two goals coming in the first minute and forty seconds of the game.

She said the defenders were integral in jump-starting runs multiple times when the attackers cut back for the ball.

“They did a great job in transition,” Wiegand said of the defenders. “Even off the draw, getting the ball up and out right away.”

O’Leary said she hopes Sunday’s performance is a sign of things to come from the defense.

“I’m optimistic about the future,” O’Leary said. “Hopefully we can play a controlled game and get out of [games] with no yellow cards.”

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