Florida lacrosse makes history, advances to 2012 NCAA Final Four with 15-2 rout of Penn State

No. 1 Florida Gators lacrosse became the youngest program in the history of the sport to advance to the Final Four after topping the Penn State Nittany Lions 15-2 in the Elite Eight round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Saturday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida (19-2) had the advantage on Penn State (12-7) all afternoon, outscoring their opponents 8-2 in the first half and shutting them out 7-0 in the second half on the way to a monumental win for the program.

Midfielders junior Brittany Dashiell and freshman Nora Barry scored three goals each for the Gators, which also received two goals apiece from junior attackers Kitty Cullen and Ashley Bruns and freshman M Shannon Gilroy.

Gilroy also notched a game-high six draw controls, and Barry contributed three of her own to give UF a 15-4 advantage. Bruns, Barry and junior defender Sam Farrell each grabbed three ground balls to lead Florida over Penn State 16-7 in that category.

The Gators also outshot the Nittany Lions 34-12 and committed five fewer turnovers (7-12) than their opponents over the course of the contest.

Junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher continued her dominant presence in the net for Florida, allowing just two goals while registering seven saves.

“I’m really proud of our program, the players, the coaches, the support staff,” head coach Amanda O’Leary said following UF’s victory. “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.”

Despite their accomplishments thus far, the Gators still have a tough task ahead of them to advance to the program’s first national title game. Florida will take on No. 4 Syracuse in Final Four action on Friday (live on ESPN3.com); the winner of the match will face either Northwestern or Duke for the championship on May 27 at 8 p.m.

UF fell to SU 12-11 in overtime on March 3 and is 1-1 all-time against the program.

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Florida lacrosse advances by topping Albany 6-4

Surviving stall tactics that kept the contest low-scoring, No. 1 Florida Gators lacrosse (18-2) defeated the Albany Great Danes (12-6) in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament and used their 6-4 victory to advance to the event’s quarterfinal round.

Florida started hot out of the gate, taking an early 4-0 lead before allowing Albany to get on the board with 11:28 remaining in the opening half. The Great Danes did their best to keep the ball away from the Gators’ potent offensive weapons, thus slowing down the pace of the game and reducing UF’s opportunities to put together a blow out, but were unable to score enough on their own even while winning the second half 3-2.

Freshman midfielder Shannon Gilroy, one match after scoring a career-high seven goals to lead Florida to the 2012 ALC Tournament Championship, once again led the Gators with two goals while also registering a team-high five draw controls.

Junior attacker Kitty Cullen, junior M Brittany Dashiell, freshman M Nora Barry and freshman M Nicole Graziano added a goal each.

UF extended their impressive winning streak to 14 games with the victory and will look to increase that number once again a week from Saturday when they take on Penn State in quarterfinal action on May 19 at 12:30 p.m.

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Florida lacrosse wins first ALC Tournament title

There have been plenty of firsts for the young Florida Gators lacrosse program but few will be as memorable as what the team accomplished on Saturday, defeating the Northwestern Wildcats 14-7 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL to capture the 2012 ALC Tournament Championship.

No. 3 Florida (17-2), the top seed in the tournament, played stellar defense throughout the contest and used seven clutch goals and a career performance by freshman midfielder Shannon Gilroy to upend No. 1 Northwestern for the second time this season and third time in the last two years.

The victory marked the first ALC tournament title in school history and the third conference championship overall as UF has won the league’s regular season title in each of the last two years.

The teams traded goals to open the match, but the Gators went on a 4-0 scoring stretch including two goals each by Gilroy and junior attacker Kitty Cullen to take an early 5-1 lead. UF was able to maintain that four-goal advantage through the break by matching both goals the Wildcats scored down the stretch and taking a 7-3 lead into the half.

Florida and Northwestern took turns scoring in the second half with the Gators’ lead never dipping below three goals for the duration of the contest. In fact, once UF’s lead was cut to three, Florida scored three-straight goals to jump ahead 11-5 with 12:44 left in the match. The Gators held on down the stretch, using a combination of tough defense, controlled ball handling and consistent scoring to outlast the Wildcats and pick up the hard-fought victory.

Joining Gilroy’s efficient, effective and dominating offensive performance (seven goals on nine shots with three draw controls) were Cullen (three goals on six shots) and junior A Caroline Chesterman (two goals on three shots). Midfielders junior Brittany Dashiell and freshman Nora Barry added a goal each.

Florida handed Northwestern their worst loss in nine years and is proving to be a major thorn in the side of a team that has won six of the last seven national titles. The Gators are 3-1 against the Wildcats over the last two seasons with all three victories resulting in ALC titles (two regular season, one tournament). Florida is also the first team besides Northwestern to win the ALC Tournament in the event’s six-year history.

The Gators will now set their sights on the 2012 NCAA Tournament where UF may very well earn the No. 1 overall seed in the event. Either way, Florida will play host at least through the quarterfinals of the event as long as they are awarded a top-four seed.

ALC Tournament MVP: Junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher
ALC All-Tournament Team: Brittany Dashiell, Shannon Gilroy, Mikey Meagher, junior defenders Sam Farrell and Jamie Reeg

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FOUR BITS: Hunter, lacrosse, tennis selections

1 » Florida Gators freshman gymnast Kytra Hunter, who won a pair of 2012 NCAA Championships in the all-around and vault last month, was named the recipient of the Honda Sports Award on Wednesday. The honor, which basically makes Hunter the “gymnast of the year” by recognizing her as the best student-athlete in her sport, is awarded to one female in 12 different NCAA-sanctioned sports. It is the second straight year that a Gators student-athlete has won one of the awards with outfielder Kelsey Bruder bringing home the honor for softball in 2011. In the 36-year history of the Honda Sports Award, Florida has won it 15 times in six different sports (UF student-athletes were honored in two sports in 1982).

2 » One of six Florida lacrosse players to be honored by the American Lacrosse Conference on Wednesday, freshman midfielder Nora Barry was named the 2012 ALC Rookie of the Year after registering 32 goals (on 54 shots) in 17 games during the regular season. Barry’s goal total was the fifth-highest on the Gators, but she led the team in ground balls and also finished second in draw controls. Three Florida juniors – attacker Kitty Cullen, M Brittany Dashiell and defender Sam Farrell – were named to the All-ALC First Team, while Barry, junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher and junior A Gabi Wiegand received second-team nods.

3 » Four members of No. 2 Gators women’s tennis found themselves placed in the brackets for the 2012 NCAA Individual Championships when the selections were announced on Wednesday. Junior Allie Will not only earned the No. 1 seed in the singles tournament but is also one half of the No. 1 doubles team along with sophomore Sofie Oyen. Junior Lauren Embree was placed in the grouping of singles seeds 9-16, Oyen was chosen as an alternate and the pairing of Embree/senior Joanna Mather also made it as an at-large doubles team. Florida has not won a NCAA singles title since 1996 (Jill Craybas) or a doubles title since 2001 (Whitney Laiho/Jessica Lehnhoff).

4 » No. 11 UF men’s tennis also had four players selected for the NCAA Individual Championships as senior Nassim Slilam and juniors Tripper Carleton and Bob van Overbeek all received at-large bids for the singles bracket. (Sophomore Spencer Newman is listed as an alternate.) Additionally, the duo of Slilam/junior Billy Federhofer will compete in the doubles draw. The Gators have not won a NCAA singles title since 1999 (Jeff Morrison) or a doubles title since 1993 (Mark Merklein/David Blair).

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Gator Bites for Monday, April 16

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah continues to play a major role for his team, posting a line of 20 points and 17 rebounds (13 offensive) on Sunday night to help lead Chicago past Detroit in overtime. Noah now has 21 double-doubles on the season though that was his first in the month of April.

» Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford told OGGOA on Friday that it is “realistic” to believe that he will be able to return to his team for the playoffs after tearing his pectoral early in the season. Horford, who has missed almost the entire shortened season, said he doubts he will be at 100 percent when the playoffs begin because he will not have the proper time to practice and condition. However, he hopes to be able to contribute in some way and help his team win.

» Unlike Horford, Golden State Warriors F/C David Lee will not see a basketball court again this year. Lee, whose Warriors are out of the playoffs and vying for a better draft slot, will be benched for the remainder of the season after injuring his groin last week. He was already dealing with a hip injury and will be rested mostly for precautionary reasons. Lee averaged nearly a double-double this season, posting totals of 20.1 points and 9.6 boards per game.

» Julie Quittner of Gainesville Television Network sent over a copy of her interview with former Florida Gators running back Chris Rainey that aired on Friday. In the piece, Quittner asks Rainey directly about the allegations made recently in a Sporting News column about former Florida head coach Urban Meyer. Below are a few standout questions/answers from the interview:

Did you see the incident when Billy Gonzales was apparently choked by Percy Harvin at practice and apparently he wasn’t disciplined for it? Is that a situation where maybe guys like that got away with certain things?
Rainey: “I heard that story from players; I ain’t never saw it and just like I said, players like that…certain players even the coaches are scared of and there are certain players that the players were scared of but you can’t just answer a question like that because they’re good in sports and you just can’t do nothing about it.

What do you mean by scared?
Rainey: “Scared, like a player if you’re scared of another player…just like that. Coaches can be scared of players.”

What do you have to say to the fact that [safety Bryan Thomas] said at one point that the program got “out of control”?
Rainey: “It wasn’t ever ‘out of control’ they just were scared of certain players and when the younger guys can’t do nothing but watch and see, you’re scared for your life too, so you just got to be quiet because if you say the wrong thing, you might get beat up from him or get in trouble by a coach.”

Do you remember incidents here that happened with [those elite players] specifically that you can remember them getting special treatment or something being covered up for them?
Rainey: “I don’t remember everything being covered up, but I just know a lot of stuff that happened through my college career…like you see people doing bad stuff off the field, fights, getting in trouble in school, whatever it is but if they made it to the NFL, they made it. It’s too late now.”

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Monday, April 16

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FOUR BITS: Powell, Jenkins, lacrosse, Zunino

1 » Florida Gators junior Buck linebacker Ronald Powell tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut and photographer David Carr happened to capture the moment about one second before the injury occurred. As you can see below, courtesy of InsidetheGators.com, Powell was pulling up from attacking the ball carrier as he believed freshman LB Antonio Morrison had him tackled. However, redshirt sophomore tackle Chaz Green kept playing through the whistle (as he should) and shoved Powell in the back to get him away from the play. Powell planted his left foot at the same time as the push and tore his ACL as a consequence.

2 » Former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins, just three weeks before the 2012 NFL Draft, has fired Ben Dogra of CAA and hired Malik Shareef of DSI as his new agent. However, as is tradition with anything Jenkins does, there appears to be two sides to the story. Though Jenkins’s camp claims that he did indeed fire Dogra and bring on Shareef, a report from the Orlando Sentinel notes that it was Dogra who decided to no longer represent Jenkins. “The only reason we decided to move on is because they’re too big,” Jenkins’s “mentor” Sandy Cornelio told NFL.com. “We weren’t getting personal attention, so we decided to move on. That was it. And we told them. We called them professionally and said, ‘Hey, we’re moving on. We came to the conclusion that we honestly believe a smaller agency that pays us more attention will be better for us.’ [Dogra] told us that he understood and he would help in any way he could. At the end of the day, we came to the conclusion that the kid drafts himself by his performance.”

Regardless of which party made the decision, changing agents so close to the draft undoubtedly raises any remaining eyebrows that may not have been previously. And though Jenkins and Cornelio may be justified in feeling they were not getting enough personal attention from CAA, they are undoubtedly incorrect in believing that it is solely Jenkins’s performance that will dictate his draft position. If it was he would be a consensus top-15 pick; instead he’s rumored to fall out of the first round due to character concerns. Shareef previously represented Cleveland Browns CB Joe Haden who switched over to Drew Rosenhaus in November.

3 » Gators lacrosse (13-2, 3-0 ALC) took down the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (7-4, 0-2 ALC) on Saturday in the first overtime victory in program history. Florida defeated Johns Hopkins 13-12 in double overtime and extended the game twice by scoring the final goal both in regulation and the first overtime. The only goal of the game for junior attacker Gabi Wiegand came with just seven seconds remaining in the contest, giving UF their first extra opportunity. Junior attacker Kitty Cullen and freshman midfielder Nora Barry combined for seven goals on 11 shots and respectively scored the game-tying goal in the first overtime and game-winning goal in the second overtime. Florida moved up one spot from No. 5 to No. 4 in the country in the latest top 25 poll.

4 » Ranking the top 50 prospects available for the 2012 MLB Draft, ESPN Insider’s Keith Law has given plenty of respect to three junior Gators. Law lists catcher Mike Zunino as the second-best player available, noting that “most scouts seem to think he doesn’t get past Seattle at No. 3.” He also has left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson at No. 24 overall and shortstop Nolan Fontana at No. 26 overall; Law considers both the fifth-best prospect at their respective position.

Extra BIT » Despite neither being drafted nor signed as an undrafted free agent by a NFL team in 2011, former Florida safety Will Hill is “hoping to make a comeback” with the New York Jets and New York Giants “showing interest” according to SI.com NFL Draft analyst Tony Pauline. Hill hails from New Jersey and has been training in the area.

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SIX BITS: Macklin, lacrosse, softball, Gilbert, Meyer

1 » Former Florida Gators forward/center Vernon Macklin was recently set down to the NBA Development League for no other reason than that the Detroit Pistons wanted to see him get some in-game action rather than sit stationary on the end of the team’s bench during NBA games. According to M Live, Macklin has been playing for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and has been dominating. In his first five games with the team, Macklin is averaging 16.6 points and 17.2 rebounds (10.6 on the defensive glass) in more than 36 minutes a game. He will remain with the team through April 7 before returning to the Pistons. “He’s playing with a lot of energy and effort. He’s gotten better each and every game,” Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said. “It’s great for him to get that experience. We see continued development. We see progress in Vernon.”

2 » No. 4 Florida lacrosse (11-2) hit two major milestones on Wednesday, recording their first-ever shutout while registering the highest goal total in school history in a 29-0 beat down of the Fresno State Bulldogs (2-6) at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman midfielder Nicole Graziano scored a game-high and career-high six goals on seven shots, and freshman attacker Nora Barry joined her in dominating on offense with five goals on six shots. The duo also combined for six ground balls and six draw controls in the contest. Junior As Ashley Bruns and Gabi Wiegand combined for six goals and three assists with Bruns becoming the first player in team history to eclipse 200 career goals. In addition to scoring the most goal sand allowing the fewest in team history, the Gators set or tied a number of other records. Florida had the most points (41), assists (12) and draw controls (24) in team history, tied their records for shots (44), first-half points (17) and second-half points (12) and also committed a record five fouls, the fewest in team history. The Gators accomplished all of this without Juniors A Kitty Cullen and M Brittany Dashiell, two of the team’s leading scorers.

3 » Despite falling to a ranked opponent, No. 4 Florida softball (29-3) suffered a tough 4-1 defeat on Wednesday in Gainesville at the hands of the No. 21 South Florida Bulls (30-5). Freshman right-hander Lauren Haeger (9-2) tossed a complete game, allowing four runs (two earned) on eight hits along with five walks and four strikeouts. In addition to going up arguably the nation’s best pitcher in Sara Nevins, the Gators committed a pair of costly errors that put them in a 4-0 hole through three innings. A solo homer by Haeger (1-3, HR, RBI, R, BB) in the bottom of the fifth was the only run to cross the plate for Florida, which left eight base runners on including three in the bottom of the sixth and two in the bottom of the seventh with the game-tying run at the plate. UF defeated USF 3-2 in extra innings on Feb. 12 but will not have another chance to earn revenge.

4 » Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert will receive a bump in responsibility next season as head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed on Wednesday that he will help protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side as the team’s new left tackle. Gilbert, who played both left and right tackle in college, was drafted to eventually hold down the former role but was relegated to the latter position in 2011 due to experience and depth issues. “We fully expect him to [move],” Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I probably had more concerns about him being the right tackle than I did him being at left tackle just because of his college experience.” Gilbert is the second Gators offensive lineman to recently be drafted and become an starter for Pittsburgh as center Maurkice Pouncey won his job out of training camp two seasons ago.

5 » Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer sat down for an interview this week with CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd to discuss a number of topics mostly concerning his return to the sidelines and how the Ohio State program is coming along heading into his first season at the helm. However, Meyer also touched on a few things at Florida including what he called an “awful” team that the Gators fielded for his first season in 2005. “We’re not a good team. As a matter of fact, we’re bad, a really bad football team – not aligned, selfish. We had some really good players on defense. On offense we’re a mess. Chris Leak wasn’t ready. Then we lose to South Carolina,” he recounted. “I remember walking to my radio show and there are some boos. The phone calls were absolutely brutal. I’m looking at [Mick Hubert] and I’m just getting greased. I’m thinking to myself, ‘What are you doing here?’” Meyer said the Florida State win really turned things around both on the field and off the field in recruiting. He also spoke about other issues he faced including “the Spurrier culture” in the SEC.

6 » While the Denver Broncos were in the process of signing quarterback Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow was in Tampa, FL helping open up the new D1 Sports Training facility while working out with, meeting and greeting children, teenagers and adults. Despite so much being on his mind about his NFL future, Tebow was obviously thinking about plenty of other things during this special occasion (photo gallery).

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FOUR BITS: women’s bball, baseball, lax, NBA

1 » No. 9-seed Florida Gators women’s basketball (20-13) saw their season come to an end Tuesday night at the hands of the No. 1-seed Baylor Bears (36-0) and star center Brittney Griner. Florida fell 76-57 to Baylor in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament as Griner posted 25 points (on 8-of-14 shooting), nine rebounds, four assists and six blocks. She was just one of five Bears’ starters to score in double figures on the evening. The Gators were led by three seniors including C Azania Stewart, who scored 14 points and grabbed four boards. Classmates and guards Deana Allen and Lanita Bartley also scored in the double digits, adding 13 and 10 points, respectively. In addition to being knocked out of the tournament and having their season come to an end at the hands of the top team in the country, Florida was hit hard emotionally by Tuesday’s loss. Five seniors – Stewart, Allen, Bartley and redshirts G Jordan Jones and forward Ndidi Madu – played their final games in a Gators uniform.

2 » No. 1 Florida baseball (20-1) extended their school-record winning streak to 18 games with a 5-3 win over the Samford Bulldogs (13-8) on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (2-0) got the start and picked up the victory while tossing a career-high six strikeouts and allowing just one earned run on three hits in 4.0 innings. After giving up a run in the first inning, Magliozzi got some support as the Gators rallied to tie the game. Florida hit around for two more runs in the bottom of the second and – after Samford got within a single run of tying the game in the top of the seventh – added another in the next frame to solidify their lead. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (2/4, 2 RBI) drove home senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/3, 2 R) twice in the contest. Freshmen first baseman Taylor Gushue (1/4) and third baseman Josh Tobias (2/3, R) each batted runners in as well. Junior RHP Austin Maddox (S 7) came in for the final frame, striking out one of three batters he faced and clinching the victory.

3 » No. 5 Gators lacrosse (9-2) routed a fellow top-ranked opponent on Tuesday, defeating the No. 10 Dartmouth Big Green (5-1) in a 20-4 blowout at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville. Florida scored a school-record 17 first-half goals and registered eight-straight goals to end the contest including only three in the second period. UF’s 20 goals against Dartmouth were the most the team has ever scored against a ranked opponent in school history. Junior attacker Kitty Cullen led the Gators with a career-high eight points including five goals and three assists (she also added a career-high three ground balls to her total). Juniors As Ashley Bruns and Gabi Wiegand each had four goals, and midfielder Brittany Dashiell added three more.

4 » In his first mockup for the 2012 NBA Draft, ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford has Gators freshman G Bradley Beal slotted as the No. 4 overall pick heading to Portland. Though Ford notes that Beal “hasn’t had a dominant freshman season,” he believes that “his scoring ability in the backcourt” is something that is undeniable to NBA scouts. Ford is bullish on Beal’s potential in the pros and has been for quite some time, noting often that he expects him to go anywhere from fourth to sixth in the upcoming draft should he decide to leave school early. He also has sophomore center Patric Young listed as No 22 overall to Memphis even though he recently noted that he plans to return to school for his junior season. An extra year in college for Young could very well vault him into the lottery in 2013 should he improve his offense and all-around consistency.

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