Although it has existed as a program for fewer than four years, Florida has already developed an out-of-conference rival in Syracuse.
They’ve played each other in an NFL stadium, a college football field and in UF’s Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
However, when the teams meet on Saturday at 2 p.m. with a trip to the Final Four at Villanova on the line, the Gators will be playing in completely new conditions -- indoors
“I hear it’s a wonderful venue,” coach Amanda O’Leary said of Syracuse’s Carrier Dome. “It’s beautiful. Other than that, I don’t know much about it.”
In 2011, the Orange traveled to Gainesville and lost to the upstart Gators, 16-11.
Last season, Syracuse won on the road in double overtime 12-11 and again in double overtime in the national semifinals in Stony Brook, N.Y., 14-13.
Florida (18-2) evened the series in March with a 14-10 win in Miami at Sun Life Stadium.
Syracuse (17-3) plays some of its games at SU Soccer Stadium — where O’Leary visited when she coached at Yale — but when it expects a bigger crowd, games are moved into the Carrier Dome.
“It’s not a big deal,” midfielder Brittany Dashiell said of playing in a dome for the first time. “We’re excited to play in the dome. We’ve never been there. It’ll be a different setup for us, but we’re excited to take it on.”
Assistant coach Erica LaGrow played in the Carrier Dome in 2008 when she was a midfielder at North Carolina. LaGrow said the different environment requires a few adjustments.
“It’s harder to hear in the dome,” LaGrow said. “Obviously, it’s a turf surface. We’ve been playing on natural grass for the last five months. That’ll be an adjustment for our players.”
The UF players will be able to communicate with each other on the field, but LaGrow said the dome’s acoustics make it hard to hear coaches in the flow of the game. To compensate for the difficulty in hearing from the sidelines, the Gators have developed a system of non-verbal communication for getting play calls from the coaches to the field.
LaGrow also said the artificial turf in the dome speeds up the pace of the game, but also causes the ball to bounce faster, which could challenge Florida goalkeeper Mikey Meagher.
“You run a little bit faster on turf,” LaGrow said. “The ball bounces a little bit differently on turf, so Mikey is going to be seeing some different shots than she would [at Donald R. Dizney Stadium].”
The Gators travel to Syracuse today so they can have an extra practice to get acclimated to the dome. LaGrow said the differences in turf, lighting and acoustics shouldn’t be an issue after the practices.
Meagher added that the climate itself might be a more comfortable one to play in.
“I don’t think we’re going to let it affect us that much,” Meagher said. “We play out in the heat every day, so maybe it will be nice to get out and get underneath the dome.”
O’Leary said the 2012 national semifinal loss — in which the Gators let a 12-5 lead slip away — has no bearing on Saturday’s game because the teams have evolved and matured.
There will also be one key difference from the teams’ March matchup in Miami. Senior attacker Michelle Tumolo led the Orange with four goals in the loss while none of her teammates scored more than two. Tumolo suffered an ACL tear in her left knee in Syracuse’s 16-4 win against Cornell on April 16.
At the time of her injury, Tumolo was second on the team in scoring with 22 goals and 24 assists.
Even without Tumolo on the field, Meagher still expects to be challenged by the Orange’s attack.
“They were made up of more than just Michelle Tumolo,” Meagher said. “They have a great firepower of offense out there. We still have to be prepared for everyone who could score a lot of goals and I think we’re ready for that challenge.”
Contact Josh Jurnovoy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mikey Meagher (5) joins her teammates on the field during player introductions before UF’s game against Ohio State on March 23. Meagher is preparing to play on the artificial surface of the Syracuse Carrier Dome on Saturday.