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Saturday, April 20, 2024
<p>Hannah Mardiney</p>

Hannah Mardiney

Neither Buffaloes nor Terrapins have been able to stand in the way of the No. 3 Gators’ path this season.

Saturday, Florida will have another top-ranked matchup, with No. 10 Loyola-Maryland traveling south. And though UF is fresh off its upset victory against then-No. 2 Maryland, the No. 10 Greyhounds will present a third-straight challenge.

“They’re super well-coached,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “They’re great cutters, so it’s something we haven’t seen thus far from other teams. Colorado and Maryland were more one v. one drivers, this is more of a cutting team so it’ll be a true challenge to us.”

Last year in Baltimore, Florida lost 12-15. To beat the Greyhounds at home, it will take a near-flawless effort against a Loyola defense featuring goalie Kaitlyn Larson, whose .564 save percentage is tied for tenth nationally, and All-Patriot League Second Team defender Kaitlyn Larsson.

“Their goalie is very aggressive; comes out of the cage, plays really high in her crease, so that will be a little bit different for us,” O’Leary said. “They provide a lot of challenges.”

To counter a Greyhound defense that plays man but reads like a zone, Kavanagh says the Gators have been copying that tactic in practice to exploit its flaws. Other areas of improvement include cleaning up the team’s tendency of committing fouls and turnovers.

“We don’t want to give them eight-meter shots,” said redshirt junior midfielder Brianna Harris. “We don’t want to give them free position shots. I’m hoping against Loyola, it’s going to be a lot cleaner.”

Though young, this team is proving to be well-rounded. Though they lost the program’s leader in saves and second-best point scorer in program history, they are two goals behind last year’s two-game mark.

That’s in part because of the combined play of their upper and underclassmen. Junior midfielder Shannon Kavanagh currently leads the team in points scored with 12 while Harris is second with 11.

Third on the list is sophomore Hannah Mardiney with four points; fourth features a three-way tie between redshirt freshman Emerson Cabrera and freshmen Emily Heller and Kaala Puglisi with three, respectively.

Cabrera and junior defender Kaitlyn Dabkowski both lead the team in caused turnovers (three) while senior defender Cara Trombetta shares the team’s lead for ground balls (six) with sophomore Emma Wightman.

It’s that abundance of talent from top to bottom that has proven pivotal to the team’s success this far into the season. It’s what could push them ahead going forward too.

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“I can’t emphasize enough how talented everybody is,” Harris said. “Every single day we’re learning and every single day we’re growing and I think Maryland really showed that.”

Follow Christian on Twitter @unofficialchris and contact him at cortega@alligator.org.

Hannah Mardiney

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