The Gators didn’t miss a beat without Kitty Cullen.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t glad to have her back.
The junior attacker missed two games due to a concussion suffered in a 10-8 win at Ohio State on March 24 and will return to the starting lineup on Saturday as No. 4 Florida (12-2, 2-0 American Lacrosse Conference) travels to Baltimore to take on No. 19 Johns Hopkins (7-3, 0-1 ALC).
The Gators defeated Fresno State 29-0 and beat No. 10 Penn State, 20-11, in the two games Cullen was out.
“I commend the team for really stepping up and doing a great job in her absence,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “But we are looking forward to getting her back on the field.”
Cullen, who led Florida with 47 points prior to the concussion, said she has been symptom-free since Saturday.
“I started feeling better the day before the Penn State game, but I knew I wasn’t going to be ready to play by then,” Cullen said. “My first practice was (Wednesday), and since everything went well I know I’ll be able to play this weekend.”
Freshmen midfielders Nicole Graziano and Shannon Gilroy have helped shoulder the scoring load with Cullen out. In the last two games, Graziano has nine goals and three assists while Gilroy found the back of the net five times against Penn State.
“It’s so nice knowing that if you are going to get injured or you are coming out of the game that you have people that can go in and can still get the job done,” Cullen said of the younger players’ contributions.
As the regular season comes to an end and the schedule gets tougher, junior attacker Caroline Chesterman said the depth the Gators have developed becomes more important.
“We have complete confidence in everyone on the team,” Chesterman said. “If someone else is having an off day and someone needs to step in, they will do that, and the last two games have completely shown that.”
Even if Cullen is not scoring goals in bunches come Sunday, O’Leary said it changes the game to have her on the field.
“Anytime she has the ball, the defense has to be concerned,” O’Leary said. “They’re going to be really quick to slide the double team over to her.”
O’Leary praised Cullen’s ability to create for others and find her teammates this season when she is double-teamed. In 2011, Cullen had 56 goals and five assists through 12 games while she has 29 goals and 20 assists in as many games this season.
Florida defeated Johns Hopkins 14-10 in Gainesville in 2011 with Cullen scoring five goals.
A native of Rockville, Md., Cullen said she is excited to be able to make her return in her home state against the Blue Jays.
“All my cousins have been texting me all week and all my aunts and uncles,” Cullen said. “A lot of my really good friends from high school are coming home for Easter and they’re all coming out to the game.”
Junior attacker Kitty Cullen returns to the Florida lineup after missing the last two games while recovering from a concussion