In only the program’s second season, No. 6 Florida Gators lacrosse (13-1, 4-0 ALC) made history by defeating the No. 2 Northwestern Wildcats (12-1, 2-1 ALC) 13-11 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL to capture at least a share of the 2011 ALC Regular Season Championship and the top seed in the 2011 ALC Tournament.
Florida accomplished this feat in front of the second-largest crowd in school history (1,518) just 419 days after beginning their inaugural season while continuing a 13-game winning streak and concluding the regular season an undefeated 11-0 at home.
Gators sophomore attacker and the nation’s leading scorer, Kitty Cullen registered six goals on the evening including a hat trick in each half. She was responsible for three of Florida’s four second-half goals on the way to a signature win for the program.
The Gators started out hot, scoring five-straight goals (including three from Cullen) to take an early 5-1 lead after Wildcats A Erin Fitzgerald notched the contest’s opening score. Florida kept the pressure on Northwestern through the first half, leading 9-4 at the break after sophomore Caroline Chesterman scored with 26 seconds left.
The five-goal deficit was the Wildcats’ largest of the season; Northwestern had only been down at the half on one other occasion all year.
The Wildcats were intense coming out of the locker rooms, with Fitzgerald once again scoring the half’s first goal. She was followed by a pair of scores, giving Northwestern three goals in under two minutes and leaving UF with a quickly reduced 9-7 lead.
Still up two goals, the Gators used a pair of free position shots from Cullen to jump ahead 12-8 with 14:44 left in the game. The Wildcats responded with three more goals to cut their deficit to 12-11 with 6:37 remaining on the clock.
Cullen would have none of it, hitting an unassisted goal with 5:35 to go to give Florida the 13-11 lead that would end the game. Supporting her team-high six goals were scores from Chesterman (three), sophomore Brittany Dashiell (three), sophomore A Ashley Bruns (two) and sophomore A Janine Hillier (two).
“I was just screaming, ‘Oh my God, we just won.’ It was so exciting,’’ Cullen said. “I’m so happy for me and my team. I wouldn’t want to share this with anyone else. This is what we’ve worked so hard for day in and day out.’’
The reigning ALC Defensive Player of the Week, goalkeeper Mikey Meagher was clutch the entire game, saving 10 shots including two in the final minutes with the Gators shorthanded due to a pair of yellow cards given out by the referees. She did not allow the opponent to score a single goal off a turnover and ensured her team was a perfect 22-for-22 on clearances away from the net.
The loss was Northwestern’s first in 2011 and first in the regular season since 2004. Florida never trailed after scoring their first goal and won the turnover battle 10-13.
Leading a team of 20 sophomores, six freshman and only one junior, UF head coach Amanda O’Leary was understandably emotional after the program-defining victory.
“We’re just so excited,” she said with a smile. “I have chills, goosebumps…I just couldn’t be more proud of what we accomplished tonight. We stayed focused when they went on runs. We didn’t let down. The team we are today is certainly not the team who played Northwestern last year.”
The Gators were shelled 19-5 in Evanston, IL one year ago, a win the Wildcats used to help propel them deep into the ALC Tournament. This year is Florida’s turn to capitalize. UF will face Vanderbilt (Apr. 17) and Cornell (May 1) before heading to Nashville, TN to begin the three-day event on May 5.
Photo Credit: Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun