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Thursday, February 29, 2024

In a season where only two seniors were left and 11 freshmen dominated the roster, Florida players had something to prove to lacrosse fans and division I college lacrosse teams across the nation.

By the end of a 15-2 season and 6-0 in the American Lacrosse Conference, Florida did just that. The Gators proved that a being a young team doesn’t mean anything, as long as you have the players.

Before Florida’s season-opener at UNC, freshman Sammi Burgess said the goal was to show people what the newest class of freshman could do on the field.

Her praise for freshmen players like Taylor Bresnahan, Caroline Fitzgerald and Mollie Stevens were only just words then. After closing the season at No. 5 Northwestern (9-5, 3-3 ALC), Burgesses praise will sit as a reminder of what a team full of athletic players – rookies and seniors -- can do if they work hard and focus.

“I think it’s a combination of everyone,” O’Leary said. “This team has worked really, really hard to achieve the success it’s had. And it doesn’t come easily. …They do it for each other. I think that’s a huge piece to the puzzle because they enjoy being around each other. If you asked them, this would be what they’ve worked so hard for.”

In Florida’s 13-12 win over Northwestern it became a test of the teams ability to adapt and react. It was a win that came from a hard fight.

While the Gators held the lead the entire game, the Wildcats continued to make up four and five point deficits when it was most needed.

The final play of the game was one that had both Florida fans and Northwestern fans on their feet.

With 14 seconds to play Florida sophomore defender Sidney DuPre was forced out of bounds and handed the ball over to Northwestern’s Kara Mupo, who then drove up an open lane to Florida’s sophomore keeper Mary-Sean Wilcox and sunk the ball into the back of the net.

In the few seconds after the tying point, the Florida bench was silent.

It was in the moments of shock that the other shoe dropped and Florida dodged the biggest bullet of the game; Mupo had crossed into the crease and Northwestern’s point wouldn’t be allowed.

“I thought that we did the best we could with the options we had and thank goodness she (Mupo) stepped into the crease and we got the ball back,” coach Amanda O’Leary said.

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It was Mupo’s error that allowed Florida to get the ball back and hold on for the last 10 seconds. But it was Burgess that pedaled momentum into the sputtering offense.

Burgess, who put four goals on the board for Florida against Vanderbilt on April 13, came out and put another four goals in the back of Northwestern’s net and an assist to close the day with five points and her second consecutive hat trick.

“She scored the goals when we needed them most,” O’Leary said. “When it started to get close, she went out there and scored those big goals and, you know, that’s a big burden for a freshman. She certainly hasn’t played like a freshman.”

Junior Shannon Gilroy came into the match against Northwestern knowing that she would be more useful putting in the assists, draw controls and ground balls than to focus only on scoring.

It was that kind of awareness that set up Burgess and sophomore Devon Schneider to lead the offense to another win.

“No matter who’s out there, offense or defense, everyone needs to step up and I’m hoping to do what I can to help,” Gilroy said on Thursday.

With an undefeated conference record, Florida is the first outright ALC Champion since 2012.

Follow Eden Otero on Twitter @edenotero_l

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