A torch was passed on Saturday. But it wasn’t given over willingly.
No. 3 Florida (17-2, 5-0 American Lacrosse Conference) erased any doubt that it was the ALC’s top team in 2012 as it won the conference tournament final, 14-7, over defending national champion No. 1 Northwestern (17-2, 4-1 ALC) in Gainesville at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
“I think it’s a historic step,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “Last year we were defeated in the ALC Championship. … For us to come out and compete the way we did today I think it was a momentous occasion.”
The Wildcats have now lost just six times in the last four seasons, with half of those losses coming at the hands of the Gators.
The previous three games between the two teams had been decided by a combined total of four goals, with Florida winning in Evanston in April, 8-7. The seven-goal loss was the worst for Northwestern since May 3, 2003, when it fell to Syracuse, 14-3.
O’Leary cited her players executing their game plan better as the biggest reason for the margin of victory.
“They came in really focused,” O’Leary said. “We’re always trying to find the free player. Northwestern is really quick to double team. So when the double-teamed I think we were able to find the free player quickly and we were able to score.
The free player was often freshman midfielder Shannon Gilroy, who scored a career-high seven goals on nine shots.
With the game tied at the 24:04 mark of the first half, Gilroy scored on a free-position shot, and the Gators would not relinquish the lead from that point on. Less than five minutes later, Gilroy had the ball inside the arc and worked her way through four Wildcat defenders before putting a shot past goalkeeper Brianne LoManto.
“I just tried to pick my spots better than yesterday because yesterday was an off day for all of us,” Gilroy said. “We just had to really work on our shooting today and finish our shots.”
Florida’s defense repeated its dominant performance from the Gators’ regular season win over the Wildcats, not allowing a goal in the run-of-play until the 23:54 mark of the first half.
“They just played great team defense,” Northwestern Head Coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller said. “They limited some of our top attackers. We didn’t respond. We didn’t have people step up. We forced things.”
Northwestern was limited offensively in large part because of the play of Jamie Reeg. The Gators’ junior defender held senior attacker Shannon Smith, the 2011 Tewaaraton Award winner, to no points and just one shot on goal. It was the first time in the last 63 games that Smith had been held scoreless.
“We typically put her up against the best crease attacker that we’re going to come across,” O’Leary said of Reeg. “She’s done a fantastic job for us each and every game.”
Even though Florida has now defeated the Wildcats twice this season, junior attacker Caroline Chesterman, who finished the game with two goals and an assist, said the Gators savor the win for two long as they find out the NCAA Tournament first-round opponent tomorrow night.
“Today was a great win, but like we always say ‘It was great. Enjoy the moment right now’, but we got to move on with it.’”