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Saturday May 5, 2012Saturday's Victory was a Day the Gators Hoped for and Envisioned When they Added Lacrosse

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- From the spacious concourse in front of the University of Florida lacrosse complex, Athletic Director Jeremy Foley watched the final seconds of the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament title game tick away on the Donald R. Dizney Stadium scoreboard.

The Gators, en masse, poured from the sidelines toward keeper Mikey Meahger and the celebration was on as an enduring crowd that endured brutal mid-day heat roared with approval.

Foley smiled. 

 “We like winning championships around here,” Foley said.

Chalk up another.

Third-ranked UF’s resounding 14-7 defeat of No. 1-ranked and defending NCAA champion Northwestern was impressive on a several levels.

First, it was Northwestern, the standard-bearer in the sport with six of the last seven women’s lacrosse titles. Second, it came 14 days after the Gators upset the Wildcats on the road (just the second home loss for NU since 2004) to win the ALC regular season, so there’s a huge revenge factor working on the part of the champs. And third, the Gators achieved a sweep of the nation’s preeminent lacrosse program in just their third season of existence.

That’s a lot of achievement in very little time.

“When you put this much support behind something, it definitely makes a difference,” Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said.

Yet, this was Foley’s vision when UF announced in June 2006 it would add lacrosse -- the school’s 21st sport -- for the 2010 season.

“We weren’t just adding lacrosse to add a sport. We were adding it to compete -- and compete at the highest level,” Foley said. “Now, did we think we could compete at the highest level in the second or third year? Probably not. But that’s a credit to these players. It’s a credit to Mandee and her staff.”

Mandee, of course, would be Coach Amanda O’Leary, who three years ago hit the recruiting trail to try to sell a program that had no stadium and had never played a game.

All she did was sign the No. 1 class in the country.

“I’m just really proud of this program,” she said.

How’s this for a measuring stick?

In that inaugural 2010 season, the Gators went to Northwestern and were trounced 19-5. That’s the equivalent of 59-14 football game, but it actually wasn’t as close as the score might indicate.

Florida trailed 14-0 at halftime.

“We laugh about it now,” O’Leary said. “Looking back, I mean, Northwestern just dominated us. I don’t know if we got the ball over the 50-yard line in multiple minutes.”

Fast forward to present day.

Advancing the ball against the Wildcats, winners of seven straight ALC Tournaments coming in, wasn’t a problem. Neither was stopping them.

Northwestern came into the game with the reigning NCAA Player of the Year in attacker Shannon Smith, whose 60 goals were 21 more than the closest Gator. The Wildcats were allowing just 6.9 goals per game and only two teams hit double-figures against them this season.

Well, Gators freshman midfielder Shannon Gilroy scored seven goals Saturday.

Oh, and on defense, UF held Smith to her first scoreless outing in 62 games.

“That’s a good stat,” O’Leary said.

Florida will have a chance to ginger up some more good stats, not to mention memories. The Gators figure to be a high seed when the NCAA announces its women’s lacrosse tournament pairings Sunday night 9 p.m.

If there were questions in the lacrosse community about Florida’s ability to compete on the big stage, those appear to have been answered.

“They’re definitely a contender,” Wildcats junior middie Amanda Macaluso said. “They’re focused and they’re playing great lacrosse right now.”

It was supposed to be a building process, but like a great contractor O’Leary has her crew way ahead of schedule on this project.

“We’re hoping we’re on the ladder up,” she said. “We’re always hoping there’s a better game.”

The latest was a pretty good one to look to one-up.

“We’ll enjoy the moment,” junior attack Caroline Chesterman said. “But now we move on.”

 

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