Thursday April 19, 2012No. 5 Gators to Battle Top-Ranked Wildcats Saturday for ALC Regular-Season Title
The No. 5 Florida lacrosse team (14-2, 4-0 ALC) will travel to Evanston, Ill., on Saturday to take on the undefeated No. 1 Northwestern Wildcats (14-0, 4-0) in a battle for first place in the American Lacrosse Conference. Opening draw is set for 1 p.m. CT (2 p.m. ET), with a tape delay broadcast on the Big Ten Network to air at 4 p.m. CT (5 p.m. ET).
Both teams sit at 4-0 in ALC play with just Saturday’s game left to play. The victor of Saturday’s game will take home the regular-season crown while earning the top seed for the ALC Tournament. Both teams have already clinched a first-round bye for the postseason tournament, which will be hosted by the University of Florida on May 3-5.
Last Time Out: No. 5 Florida closed out its home season last Saturday, defeating No. 17 Vanderbilt, 17-5. Kitty Cullen (Rockville, Md.) led the Gators with five goals in the game, followed by four from Shannon Gilroy (Northport, N.Y.) and three from Caroline Chesterman (South Nyack, N.Y.). Brittany Dashiell (Bel Air, Md.) tied the school assists record, tallying four assists and adding two goals, and Ashley Bruns put up two goals and an assist. Nora Barry (Marcellus, N.Y.) championed the midfield, recording a goal, an assist, five draw controls, three ground balls and two caused turnovers.
Cullen opened the scoring at 27:30, and following an unassisted tally by VU’s Linthicum, the Gators closed out the first half on an 8-0 run to take a daunting 9-1 lead at the break. Ally Carey scored two in the second half, but the Gators ended on a 5-0 tear to earn their greatest margin of victory over an ALC opponent with a final score of 17-5.
The Series: The Gators and Wildcats have faced each other three times in the past. Northwestern had the upper hand in the 2010 regular season, handing Florida its largest-ever margin of defeat in a 19-5 decision in Evanston.
The then-No. 2 ‘Cats travelled to Gainesville on April 14, 2011, looking for their 32nd-straight ALC victory, but were taken down by the much-improved Florida squad, who came out on top, 13-11, to hand NU its first regular-season ALC loss since 2004, unseating them as conference champions for the first time in seven years.
The ALC powerhouses met once again in the 2011 ALC Championship game, and in a back-and-forth battle, the Wildcats came out on top, 10-9, to win their fifth-straight conference tournament.
About the Wildcats: Northwestern has been ranked No. 1 in every national poll this season. The Wildcats have won six of the last seven national championships, and enter Saturday’s game riding a 22-game winning streak. The only team to remain undefeated this far into the season, NU has claimed five wins over top-10 opponents, including an 8-7 comeback victory over No. 3 North Carolina last Friday night.
As a team, the Wildcats rank second only to Florida in scoring margin (7.71), third in scoring defense (7.21), sixth in scoring offense (14.93) and 10th in total points (282). In the midfield, the ‘Cats are 16th in ground balls (17.79), 24th in caused turnovers (8.29) and 25th in draw controls (13.71).
NU returns 2011 Tewaaraton Trophy Winner Shannon Smith, who ranks seventh in the nation in goals (48) and 10th in points (64). Junior Erin Fitzgerald, the team’s second-leading scorer, has 37 goals and 44 points. 2011 First-Team All-ALC selections Taylor Thornton and Alex Frank also return, along with standout middie Alyssa Leonard. Leonard leads the ‘Cats with 55 draw controls, followed closely by Thornton, who has 52 DC, 35 GB, 17 CT and 19 g. Frank has 24 CT, 28 GB and 16 DC on defense.
ALC and NCAA All-Tournament goalkeeper Brianne LoManto has been a star in the cage all season, leading the nation with a 6.84 GAA and ranking 13th in the NCAA with a .477 save percentage.
ALC Title History: In 2011, then-No. 6 Florida defeated then-No. 2 Northwestern at home, 13-11, to end the Wildcats’ 31-game ALC winning streak and become the first team to unseat Northwestern as the ALC regular-season champions since Vanderbilt’s 10-9 overtime victory in May, 2004, gave the ‘Dores a share of the conference title.
The Commodores won the first ALC title in 2002, going 6-0 in the regular season. Ohio State picked up the 2003 title with a 5-1 record, before the ‘Dores and the Wilcats tied at 5-1 in 2004, with Vanderbilt owning the tiebreaker. Northwestern then won the next six-straight titles, before Florida ended their reign on April, 14, 2011. The Gators and the Wildcats both sit atop the ALC standings with a 4-0 conference record. The victor of Saturday’s game will be crowned as the 2012 regular-season champion.
Coverage: Saturday’s game will be broadcast with a tape delay on the Big Ten Network. The game, which will begin at 2 p.m. ET, will air on television at 5 p.m. ET. Dan Kelly will call the play-by-play and Kara Lentz will be on color commentary. Both teams will produce a live radio broadcast, with Mike Gillespie and Kailey Mizelle teaming up for Florida’s broadcast on GatorZone. NU’s broadcast can be heard on WNUR 89.3 FM in the Chicago area. LiveStats will be presented by GameTracker, and be sure to follow @GatorZoneLAX on twitter for notes and scoring updates from the press box.