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Gators sophomore Shannon Gilroy draws a lot of attention from opponents due to her powerful shot.

Sunday May 12, 2013Gilroy a Force to be Reckoned With as Gators Open NCAA Tournament

Gators sophomore Shannon Gilroy draws a lot of attention from opponents due to her powerful shot.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The questions lingered in the back of Shannon Gilroy's head.

She was back on the field for the Gators lacrosse team, but was she back to being the same player? Could she still take over a game like she did at Northport (N.Y.) High? Could she still cut and dart past defenders the way she did prior to major knee surgery?

Those answers came in last season's American Lacrosse Conference Tournament championship game at Dizney Stadium. Gilroy, then a freshman, scored seven goals as the Gators claimed the conference title against traditional power Northwestern.

Gilroy tied Northwestern all by herself in Florida's 14-7 win. In the wake of her prolific performance, Gilroy felt like a different player.

"My confidence went through the roof after that game,'' she said. "That game I could finally say I was the player that I was before my surgery."

Nora Barry, a Gators midfielder and Gilroy's roommate, noticed a difference in her close friend.

"It was really hard physically and mentally for her,'' Barry said. "Even when she was physically ready to come back, freshman year is such a struggle mentally, and she was coming back from an injury at the same time.

"She carried that confidence on in the postseason."

The Gators advanced to the Final Four in only the program's third season and Gilroy led Florida with five goals and an assist in a heartbreaking 14-13 overtime loss to Syracuse in the national semifinals.

Northwestern, the team Gilroy dominated a few days earlier, then knocked off Syracuse for the program's sixth national title in seven years.

The loss stung for the Gators and then inspired as they embarked on the 2013 season. They wear T-shirts that say "Unfinished Business" as a daily reminder.

Florida opens its quest to return to the Final Four on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m.) when it hosts Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

A sophomore attacker, Gilroy enters the tournament with a different mindset than a year ago. In a rematch of last season's ALC Tournament title game on Sunday in Baltimore, Northwestern defeated the Gators 8-3.

The Wildcats obviously remembered what happened last year and never let Gilroy out of their sight. They face-guarded her, bumped her, chatted in her ear and did anything they could to slow down Florida's attack. Gilroy, tied with Ashley Bruns for the team lead with 46 goals and is second behind senior Kitty Cullen (61 points) with 58 points, was neutralized.

Florida coach Amanda O'Leary was disappointed at the result Sunday but tipped her hat to Northwestern's strategy considering Gilroy's ability.

"Shannon is such as offensive threat,'' O'Leary said. "She is just one of the best attackers out there. For her, she handles that pressure really well. She doesn't get too upset or unfocused. She is a kid who is going to compete hard every game, whether they are in a face-guard, they are sitting back in man-to-man or a backer-d.

"She is going to do what she needs to do to be successful and to help our team hopefully win some games in the postseason. She is an incredible player, one I'm very lucky to coach. I wouldn't want to have to coach against her."

Despite her inability to get open for shots Sunday, Gilroy tried to make an impact.

"It's frustrating at times, but then that allows me to help my teammates get open by setting picks,'' she said. "They can go around me because my defense won't slide off to them. It gives them the opportunity to go to goal."

Few Gators had scoring opportunities in the loss to Northwestern. Florida entered the NCAA Tournament last season riding a 13-game win streak. The tone is different entering Sunday's match against Denver, which defeated Jacksonville 14-7 on Friday to advance.

O'Leary said the Gators didn't compete as well as they normally do in the loss to Northwestern. She reminded them of that this week in grueling practices. They were also dominated on draws, usually one of their strengths and an area Gilroy normally excels.

They regrouped at practice and now turn their attention to another trip to the Final Four and the chase for the program's first national title.

Gilroy will play an important role if that's going to happen.

While Gilroy had her moments as a freshman, O'Leary sees a more seasoned player -- a more confident player -- as a sophomore.

"Her shot is better. Her decision-making is better,'' O'Leary said. "Just her physical attributes make her a force to be reckoned with."

The questions that rattled around in Gilroy's head a year ago have been answered. Her knee feels good. Her confidence is high. Still, there is one thing missing.

She was reminded of that harshly in the loss to Northwestern.

She wore it on her back this week whenever she pulled on one of those "Unfinished Business" T-shirts.

"We really want that national championship,'' Gilroy said. "We were so close last year and it didn't end the way we wanted it to."

 

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