Lacrosse: Northwestern gets chomped by Florida at home

Rohan Nadkarni

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For most of Saturday, No. 1 Northwestern’s sixth-ranked scoring offense was off the mark, which resulted in the team’s first loss of the season.

NU (14-1, 4-1 ALC) was defeated by No. 5 Florida (15-2, 5-0) for the second year in a row in a regular season matchup.

The Gators’ Gabi Wiegand scored with five minutes and 47 seconds left in the second half to give Florida the 8-7 win. Junior midfielder Erin Fitzgerald and senior attacker Shannon Smith scored two goals each for the Wildcats.

NU had an opportunity to tie in the waning seconds but could not get a shot on goal, leading to a raucous on-field celebration by the visitors.

“Are you joking?” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said when asked about her feelings on the Gators’ celebration. “Clearly I wasn’t happy.”

The Gators dominated the Cats for much of the game, looking like the better team for the majority of the afternoon. Florida jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the game’s first four minutes before NU responded with goals from Smith and junior midfielder Taylor Thornton.

After Thornton’s goal tied the game at 2, Florida scored two goals in the next two minutes and 22 seconds to rebuild their two-goal lead. The Gators would add one more in the final minutes of the first half for a 5-2 lead going into the second frame.

The Cats, on the other hand, didn’t score a single goal in the final 22 minutes and 28 seconds of the first half, a theme that would repeat itself later in the match.

“They were sinking in on defense,” junior midfielder Gabriella Flibotte said. “We needed to spread them out a little bit more and just get back to the basics.”

NU did manage to stage a comeback with a roaring effort in the beginning of the second half.

Fitzgerald started the onslaught with consecutive free-position goals 40 seconds apart. Flibotte scored soon after Fitzgerald to give the Cats three goals in 56 seconds and a 5-5 tie.

After Florida scored to get back on top by one, NU scored back-to-back goals to go ahead 7-6 with 20 minutes and 51 seconds to go.

However, less than a minute after Smith scored the go-ahead goal for the Cats, the Gators tied the game. Neither team scored until Wiegand’s game-winner with less than six minutes to go.

Just like in the first period, NU’s offense could not find the net in the half’s final 20 minutes.

“There was just too much forcing,” Amonte Hiller said of the offensive struggles. “We have to work the ball and have a lot of movement. We worked on it all week, but you have to be mentally and physically ready, and we just weren’t sharp enough today.”

The Florida game was similar to other contests earlier in the season, when the Cats had to mount comebacks against other highly ranked teams such as No. 14 Ohio State and No. 3 North Carolina. But unlike those matchups, NU fell short Saturday.

“We play, unfortunately, with a lot of adrenaline when we’re down a little bit,” Amonte Hiller said. “We need to find that and be consistent with that all the time.”