Gators fall short in ALC Tournament final

After advancing to their first-ever ALC Tournament final with a 16-13 win over Ohio State, the Florida Gators lacrosse team came up just short of winning the league’s tournament title in just their second season.

No. 4 Florida fell to No. 3 Northwestern in the ALC Tournament final 10-9 on Saturday, evening the teams’ head-to-head record this year at 1-1.

Had they knocked off the Wildcats in the final, the Gators would have become the first team other than Northwestern to capture an ALC Tournament title.

The Gators were led Saturady by sophomore attacker Caroline Chesterman, who had three goals. Sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns and sophomore midfielder Brittany Dashiell had two goals each, while sophomore midfielder Janine Hillier and sophomore defender Jamie Reeg also added a goal.

Tewaaraton nominee Kitty Cullen had one assist. Bruns had four ground balls and three caused turnovers. Sophomore goalkeeper Mikey Meagher had four saves and three ground balls and sophomore defender Kayla Stolins led the Gator defense with three ground balls and two caused turnovers.

Florida led by as many as three goals at 8-5 but Northwestern roared back, going on a game-clinching 5-0 run to take a 10-8 lead with 2:22 remaining.

Bruns drew one back for Florida after causing a turnover, but it wasn’t enough as the Gators gave up a crucial possession with just 1:15 remaining in the game.

Florida started the game off a goal by Chesterman assisted by Cullen, ending a 4:30 scoring drought by both teams. Dashiell found the back of the net a little more than two minutes later, giving the Gators a 2-0 lead.

Northwestern’s Amanda Macaluso scored at 20:20, ending nearly 10 scoreless minutes for the Wildcats. ALC Tournament MVP Shannon Smith scored unassisted a little over a minute later to tie the game at 2-2.

Hillier scored a minute later to give the Gators a one-goal lead before the Wildcats’ Jessica Russo split the Gator defense after a feed from Smith.

Bruns and Dashiell scored back-to-back Gator goals to put Florida up by two at 5-3 with less than five minutes to play in the half.

Northwestern’s Erin Fitzgerald scored from Smith to finish the scoring for the half and send the game to halftime with the Gators lead 5-4.

Smith continued her offensive tear, scoring an unassisted goal 5:20 into the second half to knot the score at 5-5.

Florida then went on a streak of its own, scoring three straight goals to take their largest lead of the game at 8-5.

Reeg broke away from her defender to score her third goal of the season. Chesterman then scored back-to-back goals, both while being heavily defended within the eight-meter. The first was a spinning shot over the shoulder of her defenders. The second was deflected from a Northwestern stick and floated in past Wildcats goalkeeper Brianne LoManto.

Northwestern answered with their final scoring drive, going on a 5-0 run to put them ahead 10-8 with 2:22 remaining.

Bruns was able to score on a breakaway after causing a Leonard turnover and pull within one. The teams were fighting for the final possession but as Dohony won the final draw control and Florida called a timeout, the officials called Cullen for an illegal stick and Northwestern was given possession.

Bruns caused a turnover in the closing seconds but Northwestern’s fifth tournament title bid was complete, as it was too little, too late.

Florida won the ground ball battle, 16-10, but Northwestern continued their dominance in the center, winning 13 draw controls to Florida’s eight. The Gators had three free position opportunities but were never able to capitalize on any of them.

Florida outshot the Northwestern 25-22.

Emily Dohony and Hillier were named to the 2011 ALC All-Tournament Team.

The Gators will find out who they play in the NCAA Tournament tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. during the NCAA Selection Show.