Friday May 18, 2012Gators Host Familiar Foe Penn State Saturday in NCAA Quarterfinals
The top-seeded Florida lacrosse team will host No. 13 Penn State on Saturday afternoon at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship. This will be the first postseason matchup between the two teams, who have faced each other once in each of the past three regular seasons. It is Florida’s second-straight NCAA Quarterfinals appearance, while the Nittany Lions return to the national postseason for the first time since 2005. Opening draw at Dizney Stadium is set for 12:30 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on Sun Sports.
LAST TIME OUT: No. 1 Florida pulled out a tough, 6-4 victory over UAlbany in the NCAA First Round last Saturday, hanging with the Great Danes’ stall technique to maintain a small lead throughout the game. Shannon Gilroy (Northport, N.Y.) led the Gators with two goals and five draw controls, helping UF to gain valuable possessions by winning 10 of the game’s 12 draws. Kitty Cullen (Rockville, Md.) had a goal and an assist, and Nora Barry (Marcellus, N.Y.), Brittany Dashiell (Bel Air, Md.) and Nicole Graziano (Mendham, N.J.) each had a goal.
The UF defense held its opponent in single digits for the 16th time this season, causing 10+ turnovers for the third straight game, including a career-high three by Kayla Stolins (Glen Arm, Md.). Mikey Meagher (Liverpool, N.Y.) made five saves while allowing just four goals.
The Gators cruised to an early, 4-0 lead midway through the first half, but UAlbany’s defense kept UF off the board for 29 minutes, and midway through the second, their lead had been cut to two, 4-2. Two quick goals by Gilroy and Cullen pushed the Gators back ahead, 6-2, but the Great Danes did not go quietly, putting up two more before the game ended with a final score of 6-4.
THE SERIES: Saturday’s game marks the first postseason meeting for the two ALC teams, who have faced each other in each of the past three regular seasons, but have never met in the ALC or NCAA Tournament. The Gators own a 3-0 advantage on the series, defeating Penn State three years in a row. Florida defeated No. 14 Penn State, 13-11, on April 3, 2010, to earn its first-ever American Lacrosse Conference victory. The Gators were victorious in State College on April 2, 2011, winning 13-7, before returning home on April 1, 2012, for a 20-11 victory at Dizney Stadium.
The Nittany Lions have been a fantastic road team this season, going 8-1 on the year with their only away loss coming to the Gators. However, PSU is 0-3 all-time at Dizney Stadium, also falling, 13-12, to Johns Hopkins in Gainesville in the ALC Tournament quarterfinals.
THE LAST MATCHUP: Head Coach Amanda O’Leary captured her 200th career victory on April 1, defeating No. 10 Penn State, 20-11, in ALC play. Freshman Shannon Gilroy led the team with five goals and seven draw controls to earn her first career weekly honor, being named ALC Rookie of the Week. Ashley Bruns (Ellicott City, Md.) scored four goals in the game, and Brittany Dashiell and Nicole Graziano each scored five points, with Dashiell notching three assists and two goals and Graziano recording three goals and two assists.
Penn State struck first, going up 2-0, then 3-1, but a series of yellow cards gave the Gators an offensive advantage, and Florida went on to score six straight goals, including four consecutive man-up tallies, to take a 7-3 lead. After a Molly Fernandez score broke the silence for Penn State at 14:27, the Gators followed with a 4-1 run to go ahead 11-5.
The Nittany Lions found the back of the net with two seconds remaining in the first, but the momentum went back to the Gators at the start of the second, who opened with the first two goals. Penn State did not quit, but was unable to come all the way back, falling by a final score of 20-11.
ABOUT THE NITTANY LIONS: Penn State finished third in the ALC in the regular season, but fell 13-12 to sixth-seeded Johns Hopkins in the first round of the ALC Tournament. Nevertheless, the Nittany Lions received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, marking their 18th postseason berth and first since 2005. PSU is 14-15 all-time in the tournament, with nine Final Four appearances, four finals appearances and two national championships (1987, 1989).
The Nittany Lions’ offense is led by freshman Maggie McCormick (29g, 30a) and sophomore Mackenzie Cyr (34g, 22a), while Molly Fernandez has a team-high 35 goals. Freshman Tatum Coffey is strong on both ends of the field, notching 34 goals, 23 ground balls and leading the team with 52 draw controls and 17 caused turnovers. Lizzy Carney has 35 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers, while two-time ALC Goalie of the Year Dana Cahill has a team-best 38 ground balls to go along with 167 saves (4th in the NCAA), a .488 save percentage (10th) and a 9.83 goals-against average (25th).
UF IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: Florida captured the #4 seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, earning the opportunity to host the first and second rounds. The Gators defeated Stanford, 13-11, on May 14, in the first-ever NCAA Lacrosse Tournament game to be played in the state of Florida. UF’s record-breaking second season then came to an end on May 21, falling 13-9 to fifth-seeded Duke in front of the fourth-biggest crowd at Dizney Stadium, with 1,161 in attendance.
ANOTHER CHANCE AT HISTORY: Should the Gators defeat Penn State, they would advance to the national semifinals, hosted by Stony Brook University, for the first time in program history, making Florida the youngest program ever to win back-to-back NCAA Tournament games. North Carolina, established in 1996, is the only program in NCAA Tournament history to earn a Final Four berth in three years or less, doing so in its second and third seasons. The Tar Heels earned a bid to the 1997 NCAA Tournament featuring just eight teams, and defeated Virginia in the first round before falling in double overtime to Loyola in the national semifinals. UNC got a first-round bye in the 1998 tournament, earning the #2 seed in the 12-team field. The Tar Heels defeated Temple in the quarterfinals, but fell in the semifinals once again, this time to eventual National Champion Maryland.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME: The Gators have had outstanding success at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, owning a 31-4 (.886) all-time record, including 10 victories over ranked opponents. The Gators have never lost at home to a team ranked below No. 9.
COVERAGE: Saturday’s game will be broadcast on Sun Sports, available nationwide via select digital cable and satellite providers. Larry Vettel will call the play-by-play while M.C. McFadden will provide the color commentary. For those without access to Sun Sports, the game will air on WRUF Sports Radio 850 AM on your local radio dial and streamed on WRUF.com, with Cory Stephens, Mike Gillespie and Kailey Mizelle teaming up on the call. LiveStats will be presented by GameTracker, and for score updates and notes from the press box, follow @GatorZoneLAX on Twitter. To join the conversation, be sure to search and use #NCAAWLax.