On Saturday, the Florida Gators lacrosse team took on the U.S. National Team in a preseason warm-up match at IMG Academy in Bradenton. And while pitting a team of collegiate laxers against the actual national team sounds a lot like a mismatch, Florida put up a fight and a half.
Oh, and Florida, not Team USA, made the day’s highlight play, as Caroline Fitzgerald scored from well beyond midfield.
Sure, the U.S. goalkeeper falls asleep on the goal — but that is true of nearly every full-field goal in a sport with a goal to keep, and mentioning that does no disservice to Fitzgerald, a senior defender who was named a preseason First-Team All-America selection. Her shot is perfect from the distance, going just far enough to sneak over that keeper and find the back of the net.
It’s also a good metaphor for what Florida did to the national team — comprised of recent collegians, including former Gators greats Shannon Gilroy and Nicole Graziano — on the afternoon in a closer-than-expected 20-19 loss. The Gators got five goals each from Sammi Burgess and Shayna Pirreca and a fantastic 16 saves from keeper Haley Hicklen, never trailed by more than five goals, and rallied late for a 19-18 lead before the U.S. closed with two goals in the final 5:21 of play to prevail.
The U.S. team is no slouch historically, as would seem obvious for the nation with the longest history with the Iroquois-invented sport. U.S. women have taken seven of the nine World Cups ever contested, and have lost just once in World Cup play this century. Florida’s 19 goals on the U.S. team were more than the U.S. conceded in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and final of the 2013 World Cup combined. And with another World Cup coming up in 2017, the Gators played against a team gearing up for international competition on Saturday.
You don’t need to read the official USA Lacrosse takeaways from the game to get that it’s clear that Florida punched well above its weight to scare the national team as it did, but reading the official recap and seeing the sentence “Team USA and Florida agreed to end the day after one game” is still pretty cool.
The U.S. squad rebounded Sunday morning to rout Notre Dame, 22-5, and will probably go on to win another World Cup later this year.
Florida very nearly beat that team, and while it’s very cool to come away with the highlight that Fitzgerald put on film, the confidence the Gators could derive from their performance may bode well for the 2017 season.