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Monday, February 06, 2023

Teams aren’t ranked in the top five if they have a subpar defense. 

It’s not possible. And it’s why Florida (18-2) is No. 4 according to NCAA rankings.

Coach Amanda O’Leary’s defense came out with power in its punch not once, not twice, but three times Sunday afternoon.

While the Gators’ defense has proven its strengths throughout the season, the team has consistently grown with each game.

This time, Denver (19-2) was at the receiving end of Florida’s 19-9 rampage against the Pioneers.

Between UF’s 26 fouls and seven forced turnovers, Denver had few opportunities to regroup and hold control over its offensive possession.

“Defensively I think we stepped up a little better,” O’Leary said. “We were show-sliding more. Sliding on the double teams more quickly than we were in the beginning. I was really, really pleased with our defense.”

After the Gators allowed back-to-back goals, the Pioneers gained momentum late in the first half. Florida then responded with a change in its gameplan.

When O’Leary saw her defense start to falter, she chose to move freshman defender Caroline Fitzgerald to the crease to provide relief for sophomore goalkeeper Mary-Sean Wilcox.

“We made some personnel adjustments that I think worked for us,” O’Leary said. “We stuck Caroline (Fitzgerald) on a new player and I think she did a really nice job with shutting her down. You know, along with some personnel changes, I think they adapted really well.”

Florida’s defense will have to continue to grow stronger in the coming weeks if it hopes to continue its journey through the NCAA Finals. 

With the win Sunday, UF advances to face No. 5 Northwestern for the third time this season.

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Although the Gators won the first two contests against the Wildcats, Northwestern will be prepared for what the Gators’ stacked offense and aggressive defense can dish out.

“Playing a team three times in one season is really difficult,” junior Shannon Gilroy said. “But I think with a week to prepare and playing them on our home field, I think it’s going to be something we will remember.”

Follow Eden Otero on Twitter @edenotero_l

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