The Florida women’s lacrosse team has had the fourth-toughest schedule in the nation this season, according to the NCAA.
It started the 2019 campaign by playing 11 straight non-conference opponents, seven of which were ranked in the top 25: Colorado (No. 18), Maryland (No. 2), Loyola (No. 17), Syracuse (No. 4), North Carolina (No. 3), Princeton (No. 10) and Stony Brook (No. 19).
Now, the No. 18 Gators will finish their non-conference slate against Jacksonville on Thursday night at 7 at the Jacksonville Lacrosse Center. UF holds a 5-6 record against teams outside of the American Athletic Conference this year.
Florida (7-6) and the Dolphins (10-2) have squared off seven times in the past, with the Gators winning every meeting.
However, Jacksonville comes into the contest on a nine-game winning streak thanks to a high-powered offense and stingy defense.
It sports the third-ranked scoring offense (17.33 goals per game) and 12th-ranked scoring defense (8.58 goals allowed per game) in the nation.
Attacker Hayley Ciklin leads the team with 26 goals, while four other players have scored 20 times or more.
UF will need to rely on sophomore defender Sabrina Cristodero to shut down Ciklin.
In Florida’s 18-9 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday, Cristodero man-marked attacker Sophie Furlong, the Commodores’ leading goalscorer, and held her without a point.
Cristodero also stymied UNC attacker Jamie Ortega on March 16.
Ortega came into the game tied for fifth in the nation in goals but found the back of the net only once against the Gators.
The Dolphins are active on defense, causing the seventh-most turnovers per game in the nation (11.92).
Four Jacksonville players have caused 10 or more turnovers, including midfielder McKenna Rushford, who ranks first on the team with 41 draw controls.
Rushford will be seeing plenty of sophomore midfielder Shannon Kavanagh, Florida’s primary draw taker.
Kavanagh and Cristodero have performed well in the draw circle for the Gators, winning 55 and 54 draw controls, respectively.
If Cristodero controls a draw against the Dolphins, she will break the program record for consecutive games with a draw control (27).
UF has won four straight games after losing three straight against Syracuse, North Carolina and Princeton in mid-March.
Senior midfielder Sydney Pirreca acknowledged Florida’s difficult start to the season but is confident about her team entering Thursday’s game.
“We’re peaking at the perfect time and finding ourselves,” she said. “The past is the past, and we’re just moving forward at this point.”
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Florida defender Sabrina Cristodero recorded a draw control in 27 straight games.