For the Gators, reaching the pinnacle of women’s lacrosse has been a quick ride, but the trip is not over yet.
No. 1 seed Florida (19-2) is gearing up to take on the No. 4 seed Syracuse (18-3) on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Stony Brook, N.Y. in the NCAA Semifinals.
Last weekend the Gators made history by defeating the Nittany Lions at Donald R. Dizney Stadium 15-2 in the NCAA Quarterfinals and earning their first-ever Final Four appearance.
“We came here when I was a junior in high school, four years ago and there was nothing here,” junior attacker Kitty Cullen said.
“There was no lacrosse team, no nothing and it definitely took a huge leap of faith for my class to be the first program, the first girls to come here.
“It also made us a lot more special. Mandy really recruited a special group of kids to come here who all had the same dream in mind.”
It is a dream that this group is making a reality.
In addition to earning its first Final Four appearance, Florida became just the second program in the 30-year history of NCAA women’s lacrosse to advance to the Final Four in only its third season.
The Gators and the Orange met earlier this season March 3 in Gainesville. Florida fell to Syracuse 12-11 in double overtime.
“I remember being really upset after the game,” Cullen said.
“We’re a completely different team now in the season than we were at the beginning when we played Syracuse. We’re really going to focus on finishing our shots this time so we can come out with the ‘W.’”
Sophomore Bridget Daley won the opening draw in double overtime, which gave Syracuse a crucial possession in the early going.
Sophomore Katie Webster then scored the game-winning goal for the Orange two hours and 35 minutes after the opening whistle.
Syracuse scored their two overtime goals on just two shots. Florida took four shots and scored once — all in the first overtime period. In the rematch, however, the Orange will have the homefield advantage.
The game, which will be played in Stony Brook, N.Y., is 303 miles away from the Syracuse campus compared to a distance of 1,055 miles away from UF.
“It definitely hit me today when we stepped on the field and we were like ‘this is our last time practicing here in Gainesville with this group of girls,’” Cullen said.
“We’ve been working really hard and we’re really excited to get up to Stony Brook.”