Gainesville, FL -- The University of Florida lacrosse team made history once again this afternoon, defeating Penn State, 15-2, in the NCAA Quarterfinals to become the youngest program ever to earn two tournament wins and advance to the National Semifinals. With the win, the Gators improve to 19-2 on the season, and will face fourth-seeded Syracuse (18-3) on Friday night in Stony Brook, N.Y., in the NCAA Semifinals. Penn State, who came in looking for its first semifinals appearance since 1999, ends the year at 12-7.
“I’m really proud of our program, the players, the coaches, the support staff,” said Head Coach Amanda O’Leary. “This was a monumental win for us. We’ve been preparing for this since we lost to Duke in this same round last year. These young ladies have put in so much hard work. They have the heart, they have the passion and I thought it really showed today.
“This was 60 minutes of great lacrosse for Florida. I thought our players across the board defensively, in the goal cage, through the midfield, in the attacking end, absolutely I thought this was one of our best efforts.”
Tewaaraton Award finalist Brittany Dashiell (Bel Air, Md.) led the Gators’ balanced offense with three goals and two assists on the day. Nora Barry (Marcellus, N.Y.) also notched three goals, and Ashley Bruns (Ellicott City, Md.), Shannon Gilroy (Northport, N.Y.) and Kitty Cullen (Rockville, Md.) each put up two goals and an assist. Additionally, freshman Taylor McCord (Jacksonville, Fla.) scored the final goal of the game in her first career postseason appearance.
Shannon Gilroy dominated on the draw once again, leading the Gators with six draw controls and helping the team to a 15-4 team advantage on draws. With Gilroy in the circle, the Gators have had a 43-11 edge on draw controls over the past three games.
“When the ball is up in the air, we’re pretty confident (Shannon)’s going to come up with it,” O’Leary said. “When it’s on the wings we have Kayla (Stolins) and Brittany (Dashiell). We have solid group of attackers on the back line and a solid group of defenders who can also compete for those ground balls. Again, draw controls are just so critical because whoever possesses the ball has the opportunity to score.
“I think Shannon’s a huge part of that, but I also think that we are maturing through that competitiveness that if there’s a ground ball or if the ball is in the air, I see these guys with a hunger of want to get that ground ball and wanting to get that ball in the air, and I think that’s one of the biggest improvements to our game.”
Nora Barry was strong in the midfield, earning three draw controls and three ground balls, and Haydon Judge (Chestertown, Md.) and Ashley Bruns each caused a pair of turnovers.
Mikey Meagher (Liverpool, N.Y.) stopped seven shots and allowed just two goals as the Gators held PSU to just nine shots on goal in the game. ALC Goalie of the Year Dana Cahill made 13 stellar saves in the cage for Penn State, but UF’s potent offense put up 34 shots on the day, as Cahill retires with a 22-15 career record.
“I credit Penn State with their fantastic game plan,” O’Leary said.
“They came in here, worked hard, they were gritty, they were scrappy. Offensively, they kept us on our heels; defensively, I thought Dana Cahill did a fantastic job in the goal cage so I just want to credit them with a game very well played.
Haley Ford and Lizzy Carney scored the Nittany Lions’ two goals and Mackenzie Cyr notched their sole assist. Freshman Tatum Coffee challenged in the midfield, earning two ground balls, a draw control and a caused turnover.
Shannon Gilroy got the ball rolling just over two minutes in, beating out a one-on-one drive and putting the ball into the top left corner of the net. Less than a minute later, Gilroy was fouled at the top of the fan, and laced in goal number two to give Florida a quick, 2-0 lead.
Haley Ford netted a crossing shot for the Nittany Lions at 22:46, but Florida followed with a 5-0 run featuring a pair of goals each from Dashiell and Bruns to power ahead, 7-1.
“It’s definitely a huge boost and a huge spark,” said Cullen on making a big run. “Mikey will make a save at one end and it will get us more pumped up and want to score and keep scoring; and once you score once and get the ball again, you just want to keep going and keep going, because then we’re going to get up by even more.”
Mackenzie Cyr set up Lizzy Carney from the point at 6:03 to get one back for Penn State, but Cullen put one up with 23 seconds remaining in the half to enter the break holding a solid, 8-2 lead.
The Gators defense was lights out in the second half, keeping the Nittany Lions off the board for the final 36 minutes of play, marking just the fifth time in NCAA Tournament history that a team has been held scoreless in the second half.
“The defense is incredible,” said goalkeeper Mikey Meagher, “Every game they just get better. To have those seven in front of me, I love them. You can’t ask for anything more of them, because they just go out with such heart and hustle every single game and no matter what they do, I know they have my back and I have theirs.”
UF’s attackers found the back of the net seven times in the second half, with the final four goals of the game coming from Gator rookies Nora Barry, Nicole Graziano (Mendham, N.J.) and Taylor McCord, to earn a final score of 15-2.
“I think it’s exciting and it’s wonderful,” O’Leary said of the team’s accomplishment, “but I think its more of a testament to the University of Florida, Jeremy Foley, to these young ladies, to our coaching staff, to our support staff, because it’s a whole group of individuals. Its just not one person that decides that we’re going to make it to the Final Four, it starts at the top and it goes all the way down and I think these guys have bought into our system.”
The Gators will hit the road for Stony Brook, N.Y., this week to face fourth-seeded Syracuse University (18-3) in the NCAA Semifinals on Friday, May 25. The Orange defeated fifth-seeded North Carolina this afternoon in a nail-biting 17-16 contest, as Tewaaraton finalist Michelle Tumolo put up the game-winner with just five seconds remaining in regulation.
The University of Maryland was the first team to advance this afternoon, defeating Loyola, 17-11, and will face the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal matchup between Northwestern and Duke in the other semifinal game. The first semifinal will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the second game beginning at approximately 8 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN3.
“We’re so blessed here,” said O’Leary. “We have tremendous fans who come out each and every game so it’s a tremendous accomplishment and one that I’m incredibly, incredibly proud of. But we have some more work today and I hope that I can stand up here in a little while and say this wasn’t the most proud moment. We still have a couple more.”
For a transcription of the post-game press conferences, click here: Quotes