April 21, 2012

Gator Chomp: Florida Beats No. 1 Northwestern

by Jonah L. Rosenblum | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

Gabi Wiegand scored two goals and had two assists and put the Gators up 8-7 with 5:47 left in the second half. 
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

EVANSTON, Ill. - The Gators walked toward Lake Michigan, gator chomping their way across Lakeside Field. Their fans implored them, screaming, “It’s great to be a Florida Gator.”

On Saturday afternoon, it was great to be a Gator, as No. 5 Florida upset No. 1 Northwestern, 8-7, to secure the American Lacrosse Conference regular-season championship.

“It’s amazing,” junior defender Sam Farrell said. “I can’t even describe how we’re all feeling right now. We’ve worked so hard for this. They’re undefeated. They haven’t lost on their home field in years, so it just feels amazing.”

Entering Saturday’s contest, the Wildcats hadn’t lost on their home field since April 18, 2010, but the Gators quickly laid down the gauntlet, taking a 5-2 lead into the intermission.

“Our attackers were doing a great job getting open,” junior attacker Gabi Wiegand said. “It was really just hitting them. It wasn’t anything I was doing. They were working harder to get open so it was just the easy pass.”
After holding the Wildcats scoreless for greater than 25 minutes, the Gators finally let the floodgates open at the beginning of the second half. Northwestern dominated the opening draw controls, cut aggressively to the net and drew myriad fouls.

"Draw controls were really huge,” Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We play unfortunately with a lot of adrenaline when we're down a little bit and we need to find that and be consistent with that all the time."

With Northwestern trailing 5-2, junior midfielder Erin Fitzgerald put away two free-position shots within 40 seconds of each other, and then Gabriella Filbotte, who is primarily active on the defensive end, wound her way toward the net after securing the opening draw control, evaded a defender, and used a submarine shot to deposit it under the keeper. After scoring three goals in 56 seconds, however, the Wildcats would score just twice more in the final 26 minutes of play. Coach Amanda O’Leary credited a seasoned Florida defense with making the necessary adjustments.

“They’re a pretty seasoned group so they know what they need to do,” O’Leary said. “They saw the opportunities that Northwestern was taking advantage of and they made the adjustments.

After Florida retook the lead on an Ashley Bruns goal, Northwestern grabbed its first lead of the afternoon on two nearly identical goals off free-position plays. On the first, junior defender Taylor Thornton looked to shoot off the set play, but instead passed it to sophomore attacker Kat DeRonda who came out from behind the net and put it away. Two and a half minutes later, Fitzgerald took a free-position from the same place on the field, and fired a pass to senior attacker Shannon Smith, who came out from behind the cage and put it in the back of the net.

Florida freshman midfielder Nora Barry didn’t waste time tying it up, however, firing a shot into the lower portion of the net. The game remained tied at seven for 14 minutes until Wiegand stepped up with less than six minutes to play. The transfer from Richmond, who finished with two goals and two assists, first used a screen to cut to the net. She was fouled, and on the ensuring free-position, fired a fine shot off the left post. With the ball still in Florida’s possession seconds later, Wiegand cut to the right and fired it over Northwestern goalie Brianne LoManto’s shoulder for the game-winning goal.

“The defender was giving me a lot of space so I just took my opportunity and looked to see where the goalie wasn’t and I just took my shot,” Wiegand said. “Our attack is really encouraging and if you miss a shot, they just keep telling you to keep shooting.”

Northwestern got a last opportunity in the game’s final seconds, as Smith dumped a pass from behind the net into the fan. After a scrum for the ball, a Northwestern attacker was able to pick it up and fling one last shot toward the net. But the shot went high, and with that, Florida had its season-defining victory.

“This was our best defensive showing of the year thus far,” O’Leary said. “Sam Farrell did a fantastic job on Erin Fitzgerald and Jamie Reeg did a great job on Shannon Smith and Haydon Judge on Kara Mupo. I mean Northwestern is the who’s-who of women’s lacrosse players and it was nice to see our defense. Thank goodness they played their best defensive game today.”

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