Friday night the Florida Gators lacrosse team was at a pinnacle the program had never reached: the Final Four. Playing in Stony Brook, N.Y., against Syracuse, the Gators were competing in what might be considered a true away game.
Syracuse was one of two teams that were able to beat the Gators during the season, so they traveled to New York with revenge on their minds.
Unfortunately, it did not happen.
Florida lost a heartbreaker 14-13 in double overtime. The first time these two played the Gators lost in the same exact fashion.
The Gators (19-3) led by as many as seven goals midway the second half.
“Congratulations to Syracuse [on advancing to the title game],” said UF lacrosse coach Amanda O’Leary. “It was a great game and a game of runs. They scored when it counted and had a fantastic comeback. We knew they wouldn’t give up and they competed hard.
“I’m proud of my team and proud of our season as this is just the third year of the program.”
The first half went exactly as planned. The Gators were up 7-3 with no sign of stopping in the second half as they pushed the lead to 12-5 with 17:15 remaining in regulation.
But that’s when the snowball started to roll.
The Orange slowly and methodically made a comeback that did not seem to be possible against UF’s usually dominant defense. Syracuse outscored Florida 8-1 the rest of the way, including seven goals in the final 10 minutes to force overtime. T
he Gators were fazed, but got back into their ways by holding Syracuse off, until the major play of the game.
Gabi Weigand, UF’s leading goal scorer, stood at the eight-meter line, ready to take a free position shot with 12 seconds left. The game was tied in overtime and everyone’s hearts were beating fast. As soon as the whistle blew, she sprinted forward and launched the ball into the back of the net. The Gators went crazy while cheering and screaming after Weigand scored what appeared to be the game-winning goal.
Then, a whistle was blown.
Syracuse’s coach called to check for an illegal stick, so the referee checked Wiegand’s stick. The referee deemed it as illegal because the ball sank too much in the net of the stick.
The Gators were too flustered to rebound from that call and lost a minute into double overtime.
“[The stick check was] a smart play by Syracuse,” said junior team captain Brittany Dashiell. “We couldn’t do anything about it; just keep playing and try to get the next ground ball, the next draw control.”
In two categories Florida usually dominates, the team did not do so on Friday night. Florida lost those 50-50 ground balls by a large margin of 19-6. In draw controls, Florida tied Syracuse 16-16, but from the 11th minute of the second half on, Syracuse won in that category 8-2.
When the time called to gain possession to run the clock out, Florida could not respond. The Gators got outhustled in every aspect of the match.
Florida’s No. 3-ranked offense was not the issue in the match, scoring two goals below its average. Freshman Shannon Gilroy and junior Brittany Dashiell shined for the Gators by scoring five and four goals, respectively. Late in the game though, they were nonexistent as the Orange tweaked its defensive strategy to take those two out of the game.
Sarah Holden and Alyssa Murray combined to score the final six goals for the Orange in its comeback, three each. They both were clutch in the late game to help Syracuse pull through.
Holden was able to push the game into overtime when she scored the final goal of regulation while Florida was two players down because of a pair of yellow cards.
Florida’s No. 1 defense was on its heels from the middle of the second half on. No matter what it tried to do to stop the Orange’s attack, Syracuse was able to penetrate and score.
A key player for Florida was junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher, who was named National Goalie of the Year by WomensLax.com on Friday afternoon. She had a total of 15 saves.
“She literally kept us in the game after a few doorstep saves. She made a huge save for us from her knees as well,” O’Leary said. “Mikey played a tremendous game, and was a shining star over 60 minutes.”
Notwithstanding, Meagher’s impressive play may be overshadowed by a mistake made in the last minute of the second half. Leading by one, Meagher and the Gators were trying to run the clock out. When a Syracuse player charged at Meagher, she overthrew it past a teammate and the ball flew out-of-bounds to give Syracuse the ball back.
The Orange capitalized.
In its only third season, the Florida lacrosse program has made amazing strides to become a powerhouse of NCAA women’s lacrosse. This was a successful season for the Gators in every single meaning of the word.
With only one senior on this season’s squad in Caroline Coachran, there is an excellence chance the Gators can put together an even more successful season in 2013.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An ESPN broadcast and UF Communications contributed to this report.