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Saturday May 12, 2012Gators Better Get Used to NCAA Foes Playing Keep-Away

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Albany midfielder Ariana Parker made a charge at the Florida cage, only to be turned back by omnipresent defender Sam Farrell. As Parker wheeled away from the goal to reset the offense, Kayla Stolins took her by surprise.

"I just came from behind and checked her stick," Stolins said.

Her whack knocked the ball free. Stolins scooped it up with 1:45 to play and off the Gators headed in the other direction.

Without that turnover, things might have turned a little antsy Saturday during opening-round play of the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament. As it turned out, that Stolins-v-Parker sequence kept things relatively drama-free down the stretch in top-ranked and top-seeded Florida's 6-4 defeat of Albany at Dizney Stadium.

"Everything didn't go as scripted," UF coach Amanda O'Leary said. "But we competed and we came out with the win."

In claiming their 14th straight victory, the Gators (18-2) advanced into the tournament's second round and will face Penn State (12-6) at home May 19 at 12:30 p.m.

For the nation's highest-scoring team -- UF was averaging nearly 17 goals per game on more than 31 shots per game -- tallying just six goals on a season-low 12 shots must have felt like a root canal. The Gators better get used to the dentist's office, though.

Since it worked well enough for unsung Albany (12-6) to keep things close -- as well as for Ohio State in a 5-4 semifinal slugfest in the American Lacrosse Conference tournament last weekend -- opponents may think stall tactics are part of a blueprint to beat the nation's up-tempo, up-and-coming No. 1 program.

"I thought we had a good game plan coming in," Great Danes coach John Battaglino. "And we stuck with it."

The visitors made sure their high-powered hosts weren't going to light up the scoreboard, working almost exclusively in a pass-around offense designed to shorten the game and keep the ball out of the Florida sticks that ripped Northwestern, defending national champion and winner of six of the last seven NCAA tournaments, for 14 goals just six days earlier.

"I knew we had to do that," Battaglino said.

Probably good that they did.

The Gators won the opening draw and -- Boom! -- led 1-0 on a goal from Nora Barry 36 seconds into the game.

After that, it became painfully apparent what that Albany plan was when the Danes held the ball for more than six minutes without attempting a shot before a UF penalty gave Parker a free-position aim at the goal.

Parker, though, heaved the ball into the net of keeper Mikey Meagher. That save started a UF ride that ended just 21 seconds later when Brittany Dashiell pitched one past Danes goalie Anna Berman for a 2-0 lead at 22:18.

Just like that, the Gators had a two-goal cushion, but this one was tough on the spectators the rest of the way. When Albany had possession, it went four, five, sometimes six minutes without attempting a shot, which made each scoring opportunity all them more pivotal.

Draws, too.

The Gators went 6-for-9 on their shots on goal, compared to 4-for-9 for the Danes. UF won 10 of the 12 draws.

"What they did was pretty spectacular, considering we controlled the draws," O'Leary said. "They controlled possession."

They did it by playing a brand of keep-away lacrosse -- which might keep fans away and also make a great case for a shot clock, but that's a story for another day -- that gave the tournament's lowest seed a chance against the highest.

"It was hot," Albany defender Jenn Primeau said. "Part of our game plan was to slow the ball down, take our time, take the shots we wanted. That helped with less running up and down the field in this heat."

UF led 6-4 after a Kitty Cullen goal with 13:26 to play, but the Danes got a goal from Parker at 7:29 and another from Jess Antelmi with 4:23 to go, closing the margin to two goals.

"We had opportunities," Battaglino said. "We could have seized some momentum there."

It was Stolins and the UF defense to the rescue.

Those back-line Gators should expect to be on call the rest of the tournament, too. The up-and-down, scoreboard-exploding shootouts they've come to know -- and enjoy -- probably aren't going to materialize in the grind-it-out stage of the NCAAs.

"We just have to keep our feet moving and our mind in the game," Stolins said. "And not think of it as boring."

This time of year, bored and moving beats thrilled and going home.

All day long.


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