May 19, 2012

Gators Crush Penn State to Reach First Final Four

by Max Mattern | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

Tewaaraton Award finalist Brittany Dashiell had three goals and two assists in Florida's rout of Penn State on Saturday.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A year ago, the Florida women's lacrosse team lost to Duke in the Elite Eight, and the Gators had not been able to let go of that game until Saturday.

"We've been preparing for this since we lost to Duke in this same round last year," Florida head coach Amanda O'Leary said. "These young ladies have put in so much hard work. They have the heart, they have the passion and I thought it really showed today."

The top-seeded Florida Gators (19-2) handled Penn State (12-7) with ease, winning 15-2 in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament on Saturday. The Gators advanced to their first final four in just their third varsity season. They'll play Syracuse in the national semifinals on Friday.

The score was close early with Florida leading 2-1 after 10 minutes. But the Gators then compiled a 5-0 run to deflate any momentum that Penn State hoped to have going into halftime. Though the Lions got one more goal, Florida then went on an 8-0 run to eliminate any chance of a comeback.

"You have to have players to go out and execute the game plan," O'Leary said. "I thought offensively they executed it perfectly. Defensively, I thought they came out and played strong and, as [goaltender] Mikey [Meagher] said, they played with heart, they played with passion. Mikey is a piece of that puzzle as well and all the pieces to the puzzle just fit today."

Florida's attack has been potent all season long averaging 15.45 goals per game, which is good for third in the nation, and they did not skip a beat for this game. The Gators had eight different players score a goal and were led by Tewaaraton Award finalist Brittany Dashiell who tallied three goals to go along with two assists.

Penn State got a goal each from Lizzy Carney and Haley Ford, neither of whom were top five scorers for the Nittany Lions this season.

Penn State's top point leader for the season, Maggie McCormick, was injured and could not play in the game. It was a big blow to the Nittany Lions' chances.

"We didn't get to play this game, and NCAAs, with our leading point getter and that's a huge deficit to have, especially against great teams," Penn State head coach Missy Doherty said. "We definitely missed her back there. She's been somewhat of our quarterback all season so we missed her presence back there for sure. A lot of people stepped up and worked hard but going into a game like this you really want to be full strength and unfortunately we weren't today."

Florida again displayed once again why it has the No. 1 defense in the nation, allowing less than their average of 6.40 goals per game.

"They're a physical defense," Doherty said. "They do a good job of collapsing. A lot of defenses will play you way out where as they really sag in as a unit and protect the eight meter so they aren't a defense that will really come out at you and make you play but when you want to get to goal they do a good job of collapsing with each other."

Florida dominated groundballs (16-7) and draw controls (15-4).

"I think the little things are the most important things in the game like ground balls, draw controls," Dashiell said. "I think those are the key in every game because I think whoever has possession is the team that's going to score the goals. The little things are really what it comes down to in the end."

Penn state made it farther than expected in the NCAA Tournament this year but got stunted by Florida. The Nittany Lions' future looks bright considering the team is young.

"I think our attack is one of the strongest areas on the team, at least this year," Penn State goalie Dana Cahill said. "We had three great attackers and some great middies down there so I think if we just keep building on that in the next couple of years they're going to be unstoppable."

For the Gators, their season continues onward as they have made it to the final four.

After Saturday's performance, O'Leary made it clear that she saw in her team what she has been waiting to see all season long: "Sixty minutes of great lacrosse."


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