The Florida Gators lacrosse team (15-4, 5-0 AAC) took home the American Athletic Conference Tournament crown after beating the Vanderbilt Commodores (11-7, 3-2 AAC)18-7 at Johnson Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina.
The No. 8 Gators head back home onto their chartered flight with some hardware. Led by head coach Amanda O’Leary, Florida secured the 2022 AAC Tournament Championship Saturday. The result marks eight-consecutive conference tournament titles for the orange and blue, the last three of which came in the Athletic American Conference.
O’Leary said after the matchup the energy and effort the Gators displayed not just in the tournament final but throughout the season gives this team a necessary boost heading into the NCAA competition.
“I am just so incredibly proud of the effort this team showed not only today, but this entire season up to this point,” O’Leary said. “This was a huge team win for us and we are looking forward to seeing what this group can do in the NCAA Tournament.”
To go along with an undefeated conference record, Florida has now won the regular season and tournament crown in nine of 13 seasons.
This week has been nothing but special for the orange and blue. After receiving numerous conference regular-season accolades, the awards continue to pile up for these Gators; Saturday was no exception.
Seven UF players were named to the All-Tournament Team: Maggie Hall, Emily Heller, Emma Lopinto, Danielle Pavinelli, Catherine Moriarty, Sarah Reznick and Ashley Gonzalez.
For Pavinelli, she added Most Outstanding Player to her resume as her performance throughout the tournament was sensational. The sophomore’s six-goal outing led the Gators, but she was not alone. It was a career afternoon for Heller, the junior scored four goals with one assist.
It was a back-and-forth affair to start. Vanderbilt opened the scoring, finding the back of the net just over a minute into play. Then, sophomore attacker Hall continued her recent offensive surge, answering the Commodores score immediately after, converting on a nice feed from Heller.
Both teams would then trade goals until the score was knotted at 3-3 with just under three minutes left in the opening quarter.
Then, Heller slipped past Vandy’s goalkeeper Paige Gunning, making the most of a free-position opportunity with seconds remaining before the second quarter as she gave the Gators the one-point edge.
In the second, Florida’s offensive and defensive attack continued to move in sync. The orange and blue managed to keep the Commodores scoreless in the frame while adding four
goals. Junior midfielder Shelton Sawers fired one directly in front of the cage to give UF a 8-3 lead heading into halftime.
For the game, led by Reznick, Florida’s defense held the opposition to 7-of-20 shooting. The two-time AAC Goalkeeper of the Year managed to record nine saves.
“All the credit to Vanderbilt, they played us tough after their emotional semifinal win and their goalie had a tremendous showing in the cage,” O’Leary said.
With the win, Florida earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as conference champions. The Gators will have plenty of confidence and momentum heading into NCAA play as they are on a 13-straight winning streak.
Now, O’Leary and the Gators will await their name to be called on Sunday at 9 p.m. during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.
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.