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Monday, October 25, 2021
<p>Florida goalkeeper Haley Hicklen earned Big East Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday for her efforts against Villanova and Temple. It was the second time this season she has been awarded the title. </p>

Florida goalkeeper Haley Hicklen earned Big East Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday for her efforts against Villanova and Temple. It was the second time this season she has been awarded the title. 

As Towson exited Donald R. Dizney Stadium on March 21 following its 14-11 upset over Florida’s lacrosse team, the Gators knew they had to go back to the drawing board.

Literally.

The team wrote down all of its goals, as well as areas it needed to improve upon. It still revisits that list on a daily basis as a reminder of the work that is yet to be done.

One area in which the team felt it needed to change was in each player finding a personal motivation. Junior midfielder Sydney Pirreca believes the team has now found that inspiration.

“I’m playing for my sister, who’s a senior,” she said. “We all have something that we’re playing for.”

In recent weeks, the the team’s play has reflected the motivation that Pirreca spoke of. Since the loss to Towson, Florida has outscored its four opponents by a 70-30 clip.

“We needed something to change, and it definitely has helped,” Pirreca said.

Now the No. 9 Gators (10-3, 5-0 Big East) will put their 27-game conference winning streak on the line against Marquette (9-4, 5-0 Big East) on Saturday.

“It’s another great team coming in,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “They have a lot of offensive firepower.”

The Eagles are the only other remaining undefeated team in Big East play, so the winner of Saturday’s contest will have a marked advantage in the conference standings with only three games left in the regular season.

Marquette is coming off a 13-11 victory against Vanderbilt on Sunday and defeated Butler 19-3 on the road the game before that.

However, the Eagles have yet to earn a win over a ranked team this season. Marquette has struggled on the road, going 2-4 away from Milwaukee compared to its 7-0 record at home.

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The Eagles’ scoring attack — which ranks 15th in the nation — is led by junior Grace Gabriel, who has scored 51 goals this season for the fifth-best mark in the NCAA. Marquette could provide the toughest offensive challenge Florida will face in its conference schedule.

However, Florida’s defense — led by recently crowned Big East Defensive Player of the Week Haley Hicklen — has performed remarkably well in conference play.

Behind Hicklen’s 38 saves in Big East game, the Gators have held their opponents to an average of eight goals per game.

“She has been having a great season so far,” O’Leary said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with (Hicklen’s) play.”

Freshman defender Sabrina Cristodero has also been a defensive force for Florida thus far. The Glen Head, New York, native leads the team in draw controls with 64, and has scooped up 20 ground balls while causing 13 turnovers this season.

Hicklen had high praise for Cristodero’s rookie campaign.

“She’s one of the best defenders in the country as a freshman,” Hicklen said.

Florida will take on Marquette on Saturday at noon at Donald R. Dizney Stadium with first place in the Big East at stake.

Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno and contact him at tnettuno@alligator.org.

Florida goalkeeper Haley Hicklen earned Big East Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday for her efforts against Villanova and Temple. It was the second time this season she has been awarded the title. 

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