A hush fell over the crowd at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. The wind whistled through the net’s white polyester strings.
Brianna Harris stared down the net from a standstill, eager to score. The senior darted towards the Bears’ goalkeeper and launched the yellow ball into the goal to give Florida a 10-0 lead midway through the first half.
The Gators kept the ball rolling and demolished Mercer 23-5 Friday to advance to the second round of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament.
Bear goalkeeper Iseabal Cryne struggled early, allowing 100 goals. Cryne barely left an indent on the field as backup Kathryn Vanderlinde took her place just nine minutes into the game. Cryne got a second chance to start the final frame, but allowed five more goals to slip past her. The pair totaled eight saves in the match.
In the seventh minute, AAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player Harris got shoved and went flying. Her perpetrator, Mercer midfielder Haley Gerold, earned a yellow card as Harris took the man-up opportunity to score one of her five goals on the day.
Attacker Grace Haus made her mark on the scoreboard with four goals. The AAC Attacker of the Year converted on four of five shots for a blistering 80% shooting percentage.
Midfielder Hailey Rhatigan slipped through Florida’s aggressive defense to put Mercer on the board midway through the first half, but the score sparked no momentum on the visiting sideline.
With a diving attempt, UF’s Kassidy Bresnahan recorded a goal of her own for the orange and blue to increase the Gators’ rapidly growing lead.
Florida closed the first half with an 18-1 lead after it held the Bears to one lone shot throughout the first 30 minutes.
Streaking out of the fieldhouse, the Bears drew first blood in the draw circle to begin the second half, but it was Shannon Kavanaugh for the Gators who started the scoring. The New York native notched 16 assertive draw control wins and five goals.
UF coach Amanda O’Leary began to pull her starters as the clock wound down and victory grew assured.
Rhatigan refused to head back to the Peach State without a fight. The junior ripped a shot from the outskirts of the eight-meter arc to capitalize one final time. She completed the game with a hat trick, as she accounted for a majority of Mercer’s goals.
The last minute offensive push wasn’t enough to keep the Bears’ championship dreams alive as the Gators cruised to a victory.
O’Leary said she is really proud of her team’s performance.
“They really came out strong out of the locker room and were really fired up, ” she said. “I thought we connected really well.”
Florida faces the winner of the Vanderbilt-Jacksonville game Sunday. Opening draw is set for noon at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. The game will stream on ESPN3.
Contact Karina Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @kk_rinaa
Karina Wilson is a second-year student at the University of Florida within the College of Journalism and Communications with a specialization in sports and media. She aims to produce engaging, accurate and current content for all types of sports fans. Currently, Karina is The Alligator's lacrosse beat writer.