GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- To truly appreciate what Florida's lacrosse team accomplished on the first Senior Day in the program's short history, you need to understand how thoroughly dominant Northwestern has been over the years.
So bear with me for a brief history lesson.
The Wildcats began playing NCAA women's lacrosse in 1982 before shifting the program to club status after the '92 season. There it remained for the next nine years.
In 2002, NU returned to varsity classification under Coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller. In 2005, the Wildcats became the first school outside the eastern time zone to capture the NCAA championship and last May won their seventh national title over eight years.
Now get this.
Florida 22, Northwestern 4.
"There's not many words to express how that game went," said senior attacker Kitty Cullen, clearly drained by the emotions of the day, not to mention zipping through the Wildcats defense for a trio of goals and two assists. "That's probably the best our team has ever played."
And that's how the Gators and 13 seniors celebrated the final home match of their remarkable something-from-nothing careers. Talk about an orange-and-blue explanation point for this class. All Coach Amanda O'Leary's bunch did was hand one of the dominant forces of women's college sports -- any sport, mind you -- the worse defeat since the program rebooted to Division I a dozen years ago.
"We didn't expect that," defender Sam Farrell. "I guess everything just came together."
You could say that, yes.
The Gators won the opening draw and scored 30 seconds into the game. They won the second draw and scored 31 seconds later. Then 26 seconds after that.
Barely 10 minutes into the game, Florida led 5-0 on the way to a 13-2 edge at halftime, an output that matched the most goals Northwestern had given up to any opponent this season -- or in the past three seasons.
By the time the game ended, the Gators, whose first lacrosse game came on Feb. 20, 2010, had tallied the most goals ever against NU (topping a 21-2 loss to Virginia on March 26, 1991) and held the Wildcats to their fewest goals in 210 matches (dating to a 14-3 loss to Syracuse to end the 2003 season).
Oh yes, Florida had also clinched a share of the American Lacrosse Conference regular-season crown for the third straight year.
Take a bow, ladies, especially you seniors.
Who could have pictured something so good happening so fast?
"They could have gone to Maryland or Northwestern or Duke or Carolina, but they came to Florida," O'Leary said after watching her senior class account for 15 of 22 goals and seven of 11 assists "We often talk about them as trailblazers. They took a chance. No field. No coaches. No lacrosse tradition. They bought into a dream."
Now, they've lived it and passed it on to the players that followed.
"They started the program ... with no upperclass girls to teach them what they taught us," sophomore midfielder Shannon Gilroy said of her senior sisters after ripping the Wildcats for five goals and a pair of assists. "They really dug deep and played really hard."
In doing so, they went out in style and with four seasons worth of momentum.
"We'll savor this, but it's on to the next one," O'Leary said afterward. "Hopefully, we'll see Northwestern again."
Amonte-Hiller may not want to see Florida after falling in the series for the third straight time.
This one, though, was much different than the 8-7 loss at Evanston in the 2012 regular season or the 14-7 defeat in the ALC Tournament title game last year.
As the Wildcats filed out of the UF lacrosse complex, Amonte-Hiller stopped for a (very) brief chat with reporters. She was asked if her players were shocked by the outcome.
"I don't know," she said. "I haven't talked to them."
One blowout victory does not a season make. In fact, it surely will fuel the Wildcats if they face the Gators again in the ALC Tournament at Baltimore in two weeks or the NCAA Tournament after that.
But the Gators also have a resounding reference point that announced to the collegiate lacrosse world how good (or great) they can be.
Not that they didn't know before.
"We're a pretty confident team, but this definitely will give us more confidence going against some of the big teams," senior midfielder Brittany Dashiell said. "We'll watch this game over and over to see what we were doing right, but every game is different. We may have won this one by 18, but it's not going to happen that way again. Every game is different, so we just have to stay focused and keep moving on."
Sort of like they've done since arriving on campus four years ago in turning a vision into reality.