For the second time in less than a week, the No.8 Florida Gators lacrosse team will face off against the East Carolina Pirates Thursday. The matchup opens up semifinal competition at the American Athletic Conference Tournament. The Pirates host the top-seeded Gators as the No. 4 seed in Greenville, North Carolina.
Florida (13-4, 5-0 AAC) defeated East Carolina (9-8, 2-3 AAC) 16-4 to claim its third-consecutive regular season conference title. With the win, UF improved to 11-0 when facing unranked opponents. Freshman attacker Emma Lopinto led the way for the Gators, finding the back of the net three times to complete the hat trick.
The orange and blue ended the regular season on an 11-game winning streak and their ninth-straight undefeated conference record.
Although the Gators head into Thursday's game holding a 4-0 series advantage over the Pirates, defeating the same team in back-to-back meetings can be difficult. Lopinto and the Gators look to once again get past Pirates goalkeeper Brynn Knight.
On the year, Knight claims 121 saves, receiving most of the playing time between the pipes. This is the first time in program history where East Carolina will be participating in the AAC Tournament. But drawing the highly talented Gators in the semifinals will be challenging.
On May 4, the conference announced Florida claimed five of the six major postseason awards.
Emma Wightman was named AAC defender of the Year, Sara Reznick was deemed AAC Goalkeeper of the Year, Danielle Pavenilli earned AAC Attacker of the Year and Lopinto claimed AAC Freshman of the Year honors.
Lopinto and Pavenilli lead the nationally ranked Gators in goals. For Pavenilli, the sophomore followed her impressive freshman season with a team-high 56 goals in 17 games played.
Just as stellar, Lopinto’s team-high 79 points is just one point shy of breaking former Gator Ashley Bruns' record for the most points scored by a freshman in program history.
Additionally, the nine Florida players selected to the All-Conference Team marked the most by any school.
The winner moves onto the championships as it awaits the victor in the semifinal match between Vanderbilt and Temple. A win would mark head coach Amanda O’Leary’s 200th victory at the helm.
The lucky number for the Gators is 14. When scoring 14 goals, the orange and blue are 162-2 in program history. If O’Leary and the Gators manage a high goal-scoring output during the duration of the tournament, they will make it nine-straight conference tournament championships.
Opening draw is set for 4:30 p.m. at Johnson Stadium. The game can be viewed on ESPN+.
Contact Curtis Michaud at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CurtisMichaud1.
Curtis Michaud is a fourth-year student at the University of Florida within the College of Journalism and Communications. He specializes in sports and media and would like to continue to provide authentic, thorough, and engaging sport content for all readers. He is an enterprise reporter and lacrosse and track and field writer for The Alligator.