Fresh off a 16-4 shellacking of Temple to win its second-straight Big East Tournament title, the No. 2 Florida lacrosse team was named the No. 2 overall seed in the 26-team NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
“I’m just really proud of this group,” coach Amanda O’Leary said in a release after UF won the Big East title. “They started this hard work back in August. They came in ready to compete in all three segments of our season.”
Florida (18-1) earned a bye in the first round and will play the winner of Friday’s contest between Penn State and Winthrop on Sunday at 1 p.m.
No. 15 Penn State started off its season 9-2 with two wins over currently ranked teams, but has since gone 2-4.
However, during that span, the Nittany Lions barely lost to top-ranked and undefeated Maryland, 10-9, in a game where PSU led with 10 minutes left. Penn State was one of two teams to lose by just one goal to the Terrapins this season, with the only other one being No. 3 North Carolina on Feb. 27.
The Nittany Lions’ offense, which ranks 14th in the country with 12.88 goals per game, is led by a trio of 35-plus goal scorers. Senior Madison Cyr, freshman Madison Carter and sophomore Katie O’Donnell have scored 48, 40 and 37 goals this season, respectively. The goal scoring gets less varied from there, as only two other players have scored double-digit goals.
Winthrop, the Big South Tournament champion, enters Gainesville with a 20-2 record on the season. It’s two losses came by a combined four goals.
They have scored 13.41 goals per game this season, which is good for ninth in the NCAA and just .04 better than the 10th-ranked UF offense.
The attack is led by senior midfielder Shannon Gallagher, who leads the team with 60 goals and is ranked second on Winthrop in assists with 23. She also leads the Eagles in caused turnovers (70).
And on defense, the Winthrop backline has been nearly impenetrable this season, allowing the nation’s fourth-fewest goals per game (6.36). Sophomore goalie Alaina Girani is coming off a tournament in which she produced 25 saves in three games, including 12 in the team’s 10-7 win over High Point to win the conference championship. She was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
UF coach Amanda O’Leary and her team will have the chance to scout both Penn State and Winthrop Friday.
During their conference tournament, the Gators were led by junior attacker Sammi Burgess and freshman midfielder Sydney Pirreca, who both scored hat tricks in the two tournament wins over Georgetown and Temple.
Mollie Stevens made her long-anticipated return to the Florida lineup in the tournament.
Before her start against Georgetown, she last played on March 19 against Maryland. At the time, she was second on the team with 17 goals behind Burgess and redshirt senior Nicole Graziano, who both had 19.
This is the third time in program history that Florida will have a first-round bye. Each of the first two times, in 2013 and 2014, the Gators beat Denver in the second round.
With a win Sunday, UF would tie the program record for wins in a season with 19, which was achieved in 2012 when the Gators made their only Final Four appearance.
Contact Kyle Brutman at Kbrutman@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @KBrut13
UF's Mollie Stevens attempts to make a play on the ball during Florida's 12-11 win over Michigan on Feb. 13, 2016, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.