It had been 1,101 days since UF last won an NCAA Tournament game, and early in its second-round game against Colorado at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, it appeared that drought would continue for another 360-some-odd days. But behind an eight-goal run and seven combined goals from the Pirreca sisters, Florida stymied the Buffaloes for a 13-9 victory.
“It is fantastic, that is exactly what this team has been working toward all year long,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said in a release. “They followed the game plan and it is a great group to coach.”
The No. 6 seed in the tournament defeated Colorado (14-6) with ease in its season opener on February 11, winning 16-9. In that game, the Gators (17-3) notched four goals in the opening 10 minutes. But on Sunday, the script flipped.
A first-minute goal from Buffaloes leading scorer Darby Kiernan opened the floodgates for Colorado, and it kept scoring.
The No. 15 Buffaloes jumped out to a 5-0 lead 5:51 into the game. The Gators couldn’t find the back of the net and had no answer for the CU attack.
“Defensively we were a little off, but once we started picking up our marks and playing team defense, it picked up immediately,” O’Leary said.
But then freshman attacker Grace Haus scored a goal for Florida.
After that, junior Sydney Pirreca snuck a shot past Buffaloes goalie Julia Lisella.
Not even a minute later, Shannon Kavanagh scored on the assist from Pirreca.
Senior Shayna Pirreca – who had been held scoreless thus far – promptly took over the game. She scored two-straight goals to tie the game at five, and after back-to-back goals from Sydney, the Gators never looked back, as the team ended the half on an 8-0 streak. Shayna scored four goals in the win, while Sydney scored three.
After Carly Cox’s goal to give Colorado a 5-0 lead, the Buffaloes were held scoreless for nearly 25 minutes of game time. They only scored four goals in the second half, as Florida sent CU packing back to Boulder.
Goalie Haley Hicklen made 11 saves on 20 shots on goal, putting her on the right side of .500 in the net.
“Haley’s play today was huge,” O’Leary said. “You can’t ask for much more than what she gave us today.”
The Gators lost in the draw circle 14-10, and fouled six more times than Colorado did while turning it over three more times.
But Florida had four more shots on goal, and in a game that was decided by four goals, that proved to be the difference.
Now, the Gators will travel to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to take on third-seeded James Madison (19-1) in the NCAA Quarterfinals. UF hasn’t made it to the quarterfinals since the 2014 season.
The Dukes’ lone loss of the season came in a March 24 bout with Maryland, as they fell to the eventual No. 1 seed in the tournament, 15-12. JMU is coming off a 15-12 win of their own against Virginia in the second round.
“All their hard work has come to fruition – though it is not over yet,” O’Leary said. “We still have a big game in front of us with James Madison, but the team worked... hard.”
You can follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior Shayna Pirreca and her sister, Sydney, led UF to victory over Colorado in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday with a combined seven goals.