In what was likely their last game in Gainesville, Florida’s seniors emphatically ensured it wasn’t their last game as Gators.
By doing so, they also earned a chance to get revenge.
Florida (18-2) thwarted a potent Denver (18-3) offense en route to a 16-5 win at Donald R. Dizney Stadium on Sunday as it advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Florida will play Syracuse for the fourth time in two years in a rematch of last year’s national semifinal.
“I thought the defense played amazing today as they do every single game,” senior goalkeeper Meagher said. “We just always come out with a lot effort. …we played together as a unit.”
Denver entered the tournament ranked seventh in the country in scoring with 14.37 goals per game. Dever defeated Jacksonville 14-7 in Gainesville on Friday to advance to play Florida.
“A total team effort,” coach Amanda O’Leary said of her team’s defensive performance. “I thought Mikey came up really big in the goal cage. I though Jamie and Emily did a great job on the two-man on the crease.”
The Gators held redshirt senior Kara Secora, who led the Pioneers with 58 goals through Friday. to no goals and two assists. Denver attacker Jill Remenapp also led the country with 3.63 assists per game during the regular season. Florida held her to one assist on Sunday.
Senior defender Sam Farrell took the task of defending attacker Jenn Etzel, and the rest of the defense effectively double-teamed the other attackers on scoring chances.
“I thought we communicated well,” O’Leary said. “We slid well on the doubles, so really pleased with our defensive effort today.”
Florida jumped on top 3-0 in the first 3:05 as senior attacker Kitty Cullen scored unassisted by running left to right across the Denver defensive zone and shot across her body just inside the left post — the first of her five goals on the day.
Sophomore midfielder Shannon Gilroy won the ensuing draw and scored as she took the ball straight through the Pioneers’ defense, and Ashley Bruns scored less than 20 seconds later.
The Pioneers would get on the board 30 seconds later as defender Kate Henrich controlled the draw and got the ball to Secora. Once inside of the Gators’ arc, Secora passed the ball to midfielder Annabelle Gilbride, who bounced it through Meagher’s legs to make it 3-1.
Denver wouldn’t score for the remainder of the half and didn’t get on the board again until the 28:22 mark of the second half on a free-position shot from Etzel.
The one first-half goal was a season low for the Pioneers, and they didn’t score their second goal in the run-of-play until the 14:45 mark of the second half.
O’Leary said her group of 13 seniors gave an ideal performance for their last one at home.
“This is a very special group,” O’Leary said. “They will go down in history. They will always have a very special place in my heart. For them to go out on this note, I think again is a testament to their work ethic, their team chemistry, to their willingness to put it all on the line every single day.”
Florida played Syracuse in the NCAA semifinals last season, falling 14-13 in overtime after letting a 12-5 lead slip away.
The two teams met in Miami earlier this year with – the Gators prevailed, 14-10.
“We can’t get back that game last year,” O’Leary said. “[Syracuse’s Carrier Dome] is a little overwhelming … We’ve overcome some challenges this season, so hopefully that’ll just be another one.”
Contact Josh Jurnovoy at email@example.com.
Florida attacker Ashley Bruns (13) runs past Ohio State defender Tayler Kuzma (24) in the Gators’ 13-7 win against the Buckeyes on March 23 at Dizney Stadium. Bruns scored four goals in Florida's 16-5 win against Denver in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.