April 20, 2013

Full Circle: Seniors Help Gators Rout Northwestern

by Jason Lieser | LaxMagazine.com

It was Senior Day in Gainesville, but it was sophomore Shannon Gilroy who led the Gators to the 22-4 rout of fourth-ranked Northwestern. Gilroy scored five goals and set up two others for the No. 3 Gators.
© Jim Burgess

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Many of these players were part of Florida's inaugural team, a fledging group that barely finished over .500, and one of the burning memories from that season was suffering an absolute blowout by Northwestern. It was such a decisive defeat that some Gators questioned whether they were truly ready for major-college lacrosse.

They no longer face those doubts.

No. 3 Florida blasted No. 4 Northwestern 22-4 at Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., to clinch a share of the American Lacrosse Conference championship and hand the Wildcats one of their most lopsided losses ever.

"It's come full circle," said Gators attacker Kitty Cullen, one of 13 seniors who were part of the first team in 2010. "It was a cool thing — after our freshman year getting beat by so much — in my senior year to beat them by so much.

"When I was a freshman going up against them, I felt like I didn't even belong on the field with some of those girls. To get this win against them is a huge statement in our program's history."

It was thorough and complete domination, enough so that Cullen called it best performance she has seen in four years at Florida. The Gators (16-1 overall, 4-1 ALC) had a 3-0 lead less than 90 seconds into the game were up 13-2 at halftime.

They opened the second half with two quick goals and steadily pelted Northwestern (13-2, 4-1) until the final minutes.

Florida midfielder Shannon Gilroy, a sophomore, scored five goals and had two assists, while senior Gabi Wiegand added four goals and an assist. Cullen, Brittany Dashiell and Ashley Bruns each scored three times. Dashiell also had a game-high three assists.

Gilroy ended the regular season with 42 goals, leading the team. She was exceptional against the Wildcats, scoring on five of six shots.

"It's a great feeling when one person gets a goal and the next person gets a goal and once we're on fire, it's really hard to stop us," she said.

Northwestern's Erin Fitzgerald, who scored 46 times in 14 games coming in, led her team with two goals. Taylor Thornton and Nancy Dunbar scored once each.

Both teams finished 4-1 in the conference to claim a share of the title. Penn State plays Sunday with a chance to become a co-champion as well.

The loss was a shocking blast to Northwestern's psyche. The Wildcats previously had not allowed more than 12 goals in a game all season. They did not score their first goal against Florida until 17:59 left in the first half, marking their longest game-opening drought of the year.

Northwestern, winner of the past two NCAA championships and seven of the last eight, had not lost by double digits since 2003. It was the Wildcats' worst loss since being reestablished as a varsity program in 2002.

Afterward, as the players solemnly filed out of the visitor's locker room, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller seemed stunned by the poor performance. She had very little to say about it to the media and mentioned that she had not spoken with her players before they packed up to leave Dizney Stadium.

"They just executed very well, top to bottom, in everything they did," she said of the Gators. "Nothing was going right, so we just have to put it behind us and move forward. There's nothing we can do about it right now. Florida played a great game today, and we need to reevaluate ourselves and work hard and try to get better."

Both teams hope to forget this game quickly, especially with the ALC tournament up next. It starts May 2 in Baltimore, and there is a very good chance the schools could earn a rematch.

Florida coach Amanda O'Leary called Northwestern one of the most talented teams in the country and promised, "What you saw out there today won't be what we see in a couple weeks." If the Gators line up against the Wildcats again, they expect a much tighter game.

Even more important for Florida, though, is grasping that this win will not mean much to the players if they fall short of an NCAA title. The Gators lost 14-13 to Syracuse in the Final Four last season and have a championship-or-bust mindset this year.

"We know what it's like to get so close and not finish, so going into the postseason, we're going to try to keep improving," Cullen said. "A win today was something we wanted and to win by this much is a huge accomplishment. But we're gonna be over it tomorrow. This isn't anything. Going into the postseason, we've gotta play even better."

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