It started with her — and the game’s — first goal.
Shannon Kavanagh cut past her defender toward the crease, and a perfectly timed free-position pass from freshman midfielder Emily Heller gave the junior midfielder the space she needed to score. She controlled the next two draws, and with each moment of success, the crowd sang Kavanagh’s name in harmony.
Kavanagh finished the game with four more goals and added seven draw controls along with an assist. It was one of many performances that lifted the No. 7 Gators over Navy (2-4) 17-9.
And during a characteristically cloudy afternoon, with the sun’s rays struggling to escape the coverage, Kavanagh basked in the warmth of Dizney Stadium’s crowd.
“Shannon is one of those players that at the beginning of the season I said, ‘That’s the person we want with the ball in her hands,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “She’s a catalyst on the defensive end, obviously with the draw. She’s that all-around player.”
The game was an example of when a team’s offense and defense converge seamlessly to create a spectacle worth watching. With each picked up ground ball and caused turnover, the team transitioned across the 30s. Even though Florida (6-2) only caused six turnovers, its 18 draw controls and 14 ground balls were consistent with its season averages, its .548 shot percentage was over ten points above its average.
“It takes all seven [offensive players] to score a goal,” O’Leary said. “Other people have to do their jobs off-ball.”
Kavanagh was the first of three Gators who scored at least five goals, with redshirt junior midfielder Brianna Harris and junior attacker Kassidy Bresnahan joining the club. The tally was Bresnahan’s career-high, and she said it was a great feeling to help her team in such a manner.
Though she was elated to see Florida add another win to its resume, Harris left the stadium with a bittersweet taste in her mouth after beating her identical twin sister, Navy midfielder Kayla Harris, who is older by nine minutes.
“Obviously I love my team, [they’re] all my best friends and stuff, but I do always want my sister to be successful, and I have a small, soft place in my heart for the Navy team and the Navy Academy,” Harris, an Annapolis, Maryland, native, said.
For the sisters, it was a yin-and-yang performance. All of Brianna’s goals came unassisted, while two of Kayla’s three points were assists.
Defensively, the Gators kept Navy near its season average for shooting percentage. The Midshipmen’s 45 percent was three points better than the season average. UF redshirt freshman goalie Sarah Reznick did her part, finishing with eight saves and a .533 save percentage. The defense was led by freshman defender Becky Browndorf, who finished with a team-high two caused turnovers.
This was Florida’s first game in which fouls were not an issue. The crowd remained calm and collected when reviewing the referees’ performances, and the 12 committed fouls are a season-low. But O’Leary and the team still have more tests ahead, including a five-game road stretch starting Saturday against Brown, and the veteran coach is aware that the team has work to do before the Gators can hit their peak.
“They are 100 percent invested in really going forward with a purpose,” she said. “Ultimately for us, it’s just about one game at a time.”
Follow Christian Ortega on Twitter @unofficialchris. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.