It was an even more daunting task the second time around, but the Gators found a way again.
A year and a week after upsetting Northwestern to take its first American Lacrosse Conference regular season championship, Florida did it again by winning somewhere not many other teams do.
The No. 5 Gators (15-2, 5-0 ALC) defeated the top-ranked Wildcats (14-1, 4-1 ALC) 8-7 on Saturday at Lakeside Field in Evanston Ill., snapping the Wildcats’ 20-game home winning streak. Northwestern’s last loss at home came during the 2010 season, when it fell 18-16 to North Carolina.
“It’s a great confidence booster,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “They’re a tough team to beat at home. On the road at their place it’s even more difficult.”
It was Northwestern’s first loss to an ALC opponent in Evanston since March 23, 2003, when it lost to Ohio State 14-4. Dating back to 2005, Northwestern has just three losses to conference opponents. Two of them have come against Florida.
Junior attacker Gabi Wiegand scored the game-winning goal and finished with a game-high four points (two goals, two assists).
“It’s amazing,” Wiegand said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
Junior defender Sam Farrell said it helped that the Gators had previous experience against the Wildcats.
“We’re pretty familiar with them,” Farrell said. “We watched a lot of film on them and we really scouted them out well.”
With the game tied at seven and both teams in a 14-minute scoring drought, Wiegand was awarded a free-position shot after getting fouled on a cut to the net.
She missed the shot, but the Gators retained possession. On the ensuing play, Wiegand beat Wildcats midfielder Ali Cassera with a cut to the right and put a shot over the right shoulder of goalkeeper Brianne LoManto to put Florida up 8-7 with 5:47 remaining in the game.
“The defender was giving me a lot of space so I just took my opportunity and looked to see where the goalie was and just took my shot,” Wiegand said.
The Florida defense did not surrender a shot on goal the rest of the game.
The Wildcats were limited in large part because their leading scorer, 2011 Tewaaraton Award Winner Shannon Smith, was held to just two goals on eight shots.
O’Leary was happy to see such a stifling defensive performance from her team in the biggest game of the season.
“Northwestern is the who’s who of women’s lacrosse players,” O’Leary said. “Thank goodness [the Gators] played their best defensive game.”
Saturday’s win guaranteed Florida the top seed and a first-round bye in this year’s conference tournament, which begins in Gainesville on May 3. The Gators play their first game on May 4 against the lowest-seeded team remaining.
If both UF and Northwestern win their opening games of the tournament, the two would meet in the final for the second straight season.
Florida attacker Gabi Wiegand drives between two defenders in a game against Vanderbilt on April 14. Wiegand scored the game-winning goal in Florida’s 8-7 win over Northwestern on Saturday.