For the second straight year, North Carolina was able to upend Florida in the Gators’ season opener. This time, however, Florida can take with it a bit more confidence heading into the regular season than in years past.
No. 2 North Carolina (2-0) defeated No. 3 Florida (0-1) 17-11 on Saturday in front of 1,256 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. But compared to last year’s 20-8 defeat to the Tar Heels, the Gators proved to be much more competitive this time around.
After North Carolina jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, Florida was able to fight back and eventually tied the game at 4-4 in the first half. Florida also came back early in the second half to even the score at 9 apiece, but the dominant ball control that the Tar Heels maintained throughout the game proved to be insurmountable.
As Florida coach Amanda O’Leary said after the match, “Without the ball, we can’t score.”
And with North Carolina’s long offensive possessions coming from its 16 draw controls in the game, the Gators simply couldn’t get the ball enough to score.
North Carolina’s offense is designed to do that – maintain possession. Florida’s, as O’Leary said, isn’t quite the same.
“We’re kind of a run-and-gun offense – high risk, high reward,” O’Leary said. “(UNC is) a little more settled and contained and I thought they wore down our defense, they did a really nice job of that, and that’s just playing good lacrosse.”
North Carolina had eight players in the scoring column while Florida only had four. There were five more Florida players who recorded at least one shot but couldn’t find the back of the net.
The scoring chances were there for the Gators, they just weren’t able to capitalize on every one.
Sophomore Mollie Stevens and senior Shannon Gilroy combined to score eight of Florida’s 11 goals – Stevens tied a career-high with four. Redshirt junior Nicole Graziano also played a big role in Florida’s offense on Saturday, recording two goals, two assists, two caused turnovers and a career-high six draw controls.
Ultimately, North Carolina proved to be the stronger team in Saturday’s game, but the Gators were quick to point out that this was only the first match of the season and that a six-goal loss to a team like North Carolina can be a positive for them.
“We don’t want to hang our heads just because of one loss, and it’s definitely an improvement from last year,” Stevens said. “We’re still young, we’re still a new team so it’s an improvement.”
Follow Alex Maminakis on Twitter @alexmaminakis
Sophomore midfielder Mollie Stevens runs down the field during UF's 17-11 loss to UNC on Saturday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.