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Thursday April 14, 2011No. 6 Florida Lacrosse Captures First American Lacrosse Conference Title

Gainesville, Fla.

The No. 6 Florida lacrosse team made history on Thursday night at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, clinching the No. 1 seed in the ALC Tournament and at least a share of the American Lacrosse Conference regular season title with a 13-11 upset of No. 2 Northwestern. The Gators shared this history-making game with 1,518 Gator faithful, marking the second-largest crowd in Florida history and sealing an undefeated home record in only the program’s second year of existence.

The Gators now move to 13-1 on the season, 4-0 in ALC play and a perfect 11-0 at home. The Wildcats are now 12-1 on the season and 2-1 in ALC play. Prior to this evening’s contest, Northwestern hadn’t lost a regular season ALC contest since May 6, 2004, a 10-9 overtime loss to Vanderbilt.

Florida was led by Tewaaraton watch list honoree Kitty Cullen (Rockville, Md.) with six goals on the evening, including three of the Gators’ four second half goals. Caroline Chesterman (South Nyack, N.Y.) had a hat trick against the Wildcats while Ashley Bruns (Ellicott City, Md.) and Janine Hillier (Farmingdale, N.Y.) each contributed two goals. Brittany Dashiell (Bel Air, Md.) had all of the Gators’ assists against Northwestern, registering three points.

ALC Defensive Player of the Week Mikey Meagher (Liverpool, N.Y.) showed why she was given that honor with 10 saves on the evening, including two clutch saves in the closing minutes when Florida was playing down two players due to yellow cards. Meagher also had two ground balls and a caused turnover. The Gators were a perfect 22-for-22 on clears and Meagher never allowed a goal to score after a Florida turnover.

“We’re just so excited,” Florida head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “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.”

Florida’s defense played another incredible game, led by sophomore defender Emily Dohony’s (Parkton, Md.) five ground balls .

The Gators only trailed once the entire game, as Northwestern’s Erin Fitzgerald scored her in the first 22 seconds, her first of four goals on the evening.

Bruns sparked a 5-0 Gator run as she was able to find the top corner of the net for her first score of the evening. Cullen wasn’t too far behind, scoring from Dashiell to give the Gators the lead for good. Cullen scored again less than two minutes later from free position and continued the Florida momentum.

Chesterman then scored her first goal of the evening off a rebounded shot from the post. Bruns first had the shot on goal and it bounced off the post, allowing Chesterman to scoop the ball into the back of the net.

Cullen continued the Gator rhythm, notching a hat trick less than 15 minutes into the game for the sixth time this season. Cullen has never scored less than three goals in every game this season and tonight was no different.

Fitzgerald cut the Gator momentum, as she scored unassisted with 11:52 remaining in the half. The nation’s leading point scorer, Shannon Smith, then found the back of the net thanks to Alex Frank to inch closer to the Florida lead, 5-3.

Chesterman scored from Dashiell to widen the gap back to three goals before Hillier scored unassisted after shaking off three Northwestern defenders. Frank scored again for the Wildcats before the Gators closed the half with another Hillier goal and a Chesterman score from Dashiell with only 26 seconds remaining in the half. The Gators took a 9-4 lead into intermission.

The Wildcats staged a furious second-half rally, storming back from a five-goal halftime deficit to cut the lead to one goal twice. Fitzgerald opened the Wildcat scoring again, just 1:13 into the second stanza. Smith then found the back of the net less than a minute later before Frank scored from free position to put three total goals on the board just over three minutes into the second half.

Bruns was able to score unassisted to halt the Wildcat momentum, keeping the Gators’ lead to three at 10-7 with 23:31 to go in the game. Northwestern’s Ali Cassera scored from free position to inch back within two before Cullen scored two free position goals within nearly two minutes of each other to push the Florida lead back to four at 12-8 with 14:44 remaining.

Northwestern answered with a flurry of goals, scoring three goals in six minutes to cut the lead to just one with 6:37 remaining in the game. Florida needed to win a draw control in order to get the momentum back to the Gators and it came in the form of freshman midfielder Kelsey Dlugos (Commack, N.Y.). Dlugos’ 5-10 build was enough to pressure the Wildcats’ Alyssa Leonard, who helps the Wildcats lead the nation in draw controls. Dlugos won the draw and Cullen was able to score unassisted to seal the win for the Gators, 13-11.

“I just can’t believe this,” Cullen said. “I just can’t believe this is really happening. We work so hard and I have to give credit to my teammates. We have an amazing group of girls that push us every day and they were able to practice against us this week with the same defense Northwestern runs. This win belongs to all of us and the hard work we put in, day in and day out.”

Florida barely outshot Northwestern, 31-30, and won the battle on the ground, 16-10. Northwestern continued their dominance on the draw, as they have all season, winning 17 draw controls to Florida’s nine. Turnovers hurt Northwestern, as the Wildcats had 13 on the evening and the Gators only had eight.

Florida has a quick turnaround, focusing on No. 17 Vanderbilt to close ALC play. The Gators face the Commodores at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex at 1:00 p.m. local time (CST) on Sunday, April 17th. Florida’s matchup with Vanderbilt will be broadcast on with Andrew Suarez and Kailey Mizelle on the call.

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