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Florida's seniors made sure they went out as winners in their final home game Sunday.

Sunday May 12, 2013Gators Seniors Cap Home Careers by Leading Way to Elite 8

Florida's seniors made sure they went out as winners in their final home game Sunday.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- On Page 9 of the Florida lacrosse team's media guide, the fourth-year program's milestone moments are listed in black and white.

June 14, 2006 -- Sport announced by the University Athletic Association

June 22, 2007 -- Head coach Amanda O'Leary hired

Sept. 17, 2008 -- Ground-breaking on Dizney Stadium

Nov. 19, 2008 -- First signing class announced

Sept. 26, 2009 -- First practice held

Feb. 20, 2010 -- First game vs. Jacksonville

The Gators played their 80th game on Sunday, hosting Denver in the NCAA Tournament. A berth in the Elite Eight hung in the balance in the second meeting between the schools.

The game carried an additional distinction for the group of 12 seniors on Florida's roster, a fact they anticipated prior to the game but didn't learn for sure until about 90 minutes afterward.

May 12, 2013 -- Final home game for Florida's inaugural freshman class

The Gators provided a familiar outcome for those in the stands on a hot afternoon at Dizney Stadium: Florida 16, Denver 5.

The No. 5-seed Gators controlled the game from start to finish to advance to face No. 4-seed Syracuse, a 21-8 winner over Dartmouth on Sunday, in the national quarterfinals in a rematch of last season's national semifinal in which the Gators lost in overtime, 14-13. The game is Saturday at Syracuse (time TBA).

Meanwhile, Sunday was a perfect sendoff for the seniors in O'Leary's view.

"This is a very special group," O'Leary said. "They will go down in history. They will always have a very special place in my heart. For them to go out on this note, I think again is just a testament to their work ethic, to their team chemistry, to their willingness to put it all on the line every single day."

Fueled by what they call "unfinished business" -- a team slogan derived from last season's loss to Syracuse in the Final Four -- Florida gave the Pioneers no chance to spoil their ultimate goal.

And the seniors took center stage.

Kitty Cullen became the first player in program to eclipse 200 career goals, scoring five Sunday, including three in the first half as the Gators raced to a 12-1 lead. Ashley Bruns added four goals, giving her 50 in a season for the first time in her career. Senior midfielder Brittany Dashiell chipped in three assists, joining Cullen and Bruns as the only players in UF history with 200 career points.

And then there was senior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher, who seemed to catch, swat and kick everything Denver threw at her. Meagher finished with nine saves and served as the backbone of a defensive effort that shut down the Pioneers' attack other than for a brief spurt at the start of the second half.

After Denver scored the first two goals following halftime to trim Florida's lead to 12-3, Cullen answered with back-to-back goals.

Game over.

"Coming out of the half, we came out a little slow, so once we got the ball back it was just really important for us to capitalize,'' said Cullen, who leads the team with 66 points (48 goals, 18 assists).

Coming off a disappointing 8-3 loss to Northwestern in the American Lacrosse Conference championship game seven days ago, the seniors made sure there was no hangover effect.

They met Monday as a group to remind each other the stakes and to flush out any lingering frustration from losing out on the ALC Tournament title.

"We weren't really shaken,'' Meagher said. "It wasn't our best game. We knew we would get it together and I think it really showed out there today."

The seniors got plenty of help from the underclassmen -- sophomore Shannon Gilroy scored four goals and a game-high seven draw controls -- but they clearly set the tone.

The Gators finished 10-0 at home, improved to 41-4 at Dizney Stadium in the program's four years, and the seniors walked off the field as winners in their final 18 home games dating back to last season.

"For the seniors who have been here and started this program, for us, we just want to go out and make sure we don't have any regrets when we leave this place,'' Cullen said. "We don't want to look back and wonder if there was anything else we could have done in order to be successful.

"We are just putting everything out there on the field this postseason and hope we reach our goal."

They got off to a rousing start.

In the loss to Northwestern, the Gators lost the draw-control battle 10-3. They won 16-7 Sunday, forcing the Pioneers to scramble defensively for most of the game.

They clamped down defensively as well against the nation's seventh-highest scoring team, outshooting Denver 34-17.

"It was a great effort by everyone out there defensively,'' senior defender Sam Farrell said.

The Pioneers, who earned an at-large bid to the tournament as regular-season champions of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, boarded their bus impressed at the way the Gators manhandled them.

"I think Florida is hands down the best team we've played all season,'' Denver coach Liza Kelly said.

Added Pioneers senior defender Kate Henrich: "Florida is an awesome team. I can see them being the next national champs."

The Gators looked the part Sunday.

They presented O'Leary with a string of Mother's Day balloons after the game. They had already given her the best gift, though, a victory in the senior class's final home game.

"This is exactly the way I would want them to go out in their last home game,'' O'Leary said.


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