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The No. 3 Tar Heels’ game plan stifled the Gators’ offense on the way to an 11-9 victory on Saturday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. UF (3-5) has lost two straight games for the second time this season, something that hasn’t happened since the team’s inaugural campaign in 2010.
“They have a fantastic slide package defensively,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “So they always send two (players) to the ball.”
Florida and North Carolina had difficulty scoring in the opening seven minutes due to unforced turnovers from both offenses.
Midfielder Kara Klages put the Tar Heels on the board first on an assist from midfielder Katie Hoeg, who ranked sixth in the nation in assists (21) coming into the contest.
Sophomore defender Sabrina Cristodero won possession for the Gators following the goal, but she turned the ball over at midfield, leading to a fast break for UNC.
Attacker Taylor McDaniels took advantage of Cristodero’s mistake and scored North Carolina’s second goal 43 seconds after its first.
UF then went on a 3-0 run led by senior attacker Lindsey Ronbeck.
She scored a goal in the run of play, from the free position and assisted sophomore midfielder Shannon Kavanagh’s first goal of the day to put Florida up 3-2.
The Tar Heels answered back with five straight goals over the next six minutes to retake the lead at 7-3.
Senior midfielder Sydney Pirreca, who returned from a one-game suspension for breaking team rules, ripped a shot past goalkeeper Taylor Moreno to end a 10-minute goalless stretch for the Gators, cutting the deficit to 7-4.
The start of the second half was all UNC.
It posted three goals in under 12 minutes to extend its lead 11-4, but UF did not go away.
Senior goalkeeper Haley Hicklen’s eight saves in the second half helped Florida embark on a 5-0 run. However, the team ran out of time and was unable to mount a comeback.
The Gators have already lost five games this season for the first time since 2015, yet O’Leary said they are still benefiting from the results.
“We choose to play this schedule to prepare us for conference play, so we want to play the best of the best,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “This stretch is a little bit tough, but I think we’re getting stronger for it.”
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bmatamoros_ and contact him at [email protected].