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Friday, March 31, 2023
<p>Former UF midfielder Janine Hillier has led Stony Brook to a 5-1 start and No. 19 ranking.</p>

Former UF midfielder Janine Hillier has led Stony Brook to a 5-1 start and No. 19 ranking.

The Gators were excited to have every player returning.

Florida did not have a single senior on its 2011 team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.

“We knew everyone was coming back,” junior defender Sam Farrell said. “We weren’t graduating anyone, so we figured we were just building on the team we had.”

But, they ended up losing one starter in the offseason.

When No. 5 Florida (6-2) hosts No. 19 Stony Brook (5-1) at 3 p.m. today at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, the Gators will be playing against the only key contributor to not return from their 2011 team: Janine Hillier.

“It’s always weird having to go against your friend,” junior attacker Kitty Cullen said.

In December, Hillier, a junior midfielder from Farmingdale, N.Y., announced she would be transferring to Stony Brook, citing a desire to be closer to home and to her sister, a first-year assistant on the Seawolves staff.

The move did not come as a surprise to her teammates. Cullen said Hillier told her and fellow junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell of her decision in a private meeting earlier in the month.

“I knew she had been struggling a little bit being so far away from home,” Cullen said. “She came to us and she sat us down and talked to us about it maturely and honestly.”

As a sophomore last season, Hillier was the fourth-leading scorer on the Gators with 34 goals and six assists.

The loss of Hillier has not been a crushing blow to the Gators thanks to the contributions of newcomers such as junior transfer attacker Gabi Wiegand and freshmen Nora Barry and Nicole Graziano. But, Hillier’s former teammates recognize how talented of a player they lost.

“She’s extremely fast and really strong and has a great shot and can finish,” Farrell said.

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Hillier has played well for the Seawolves this season as her 16 goals and eight assists are good for third on the team in points.

Farrell said she is extremely familiar with Hillier’s game after defending her in practice for two years and said she will not defend her harder than most other players, just differently.

“I definitely know what her strengths and weaknesses are, so that will help,” Farrell said. “She’s not afraid to take it strong 1 v. 1, so that is her biggest strength and whenever she gets the ball she’ll go to goal.”

Coach Amanda O’Leary said that while Hillier is a great player, the Gators cannot lose sight of the fact they will be lining up against a dangerous, up-and-coming team.

With Hillier’s newly-acquired talents, the Seawolves have jumped out this season to a 5-1 start and a top-25 national ranking after posting a 4-11 record overall last year.  

Stony Brook followed up a 15-14 upset of then-No. 20 Johns Hopkins on March 3 — an American Lacrosse Conference team like Florida — by nearly pulling another shocking win two days later in a narrow, 9-8 loss to No. 3 Duke.

“This is a team that is very well coached,” O’Leary said. “They are fast. They are aggressive, so we’re expecting to have a real battle out there.”

Former UF midfielder Janine Hillier has led Stony Brook to a 5-1 start and No. 19 ranking.

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