While No. 6 Florida strode into Williamsburg on the heels of a three-game win streak and a slew of impressive offense performances, William and Mary hoped to halt its recent losing skid and send the Gators back to the Swamp empty-handed.
Instead, Florida (8-2) scored early and often in the first half, amassing an 11 point halftime lead that would ultimately morph into a 21-8 home defeat for the College. The loss, which drops the Tribe to 2-6 on the year, is its fifth to a top-10 team this season. (More after the slideshow.)
“I think they are a strong team, they have a strong defense, and they beat us in speed,” head coach Brooke Ireland said. “They pressured us and we didn’t capitalize on the opportunities given to us.”
The Gators came out of the gate with an aggressive style of play and never looked back, scoring five goals in the first six minutes of play. Florida’s Brittany Dashiell and Gabi Wiegland contributed the first two goals of the game before the Tribe was able to establish possession of the ball.
With 26 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the opening period, Florida’s Shannon Gilroy scored the first of several Gator goals off Tribe turnovers. Florida’s Kitty Cullen forced a turnover near the Florida goal, thwarting a Tribe scoring opportunity, and then raced up the field, dishing the ball to Gilroy, who then sent it flying past freshman goalkeeper Lucy Ferguson. The Gators then went on to score two more goals before Ireland called timeout with the scoreboard showing a 5-0 Florida advantage.
Following the timeout, freshman attacker Kaleigh Noon scored the first Tribe goal of the day. Noon slipped through the Florida defense, spun away from one last Gator defender and sent a shot past Florida goalkeeper Cara Canington for the score.
While Noon’s goal could have represented a turning point in the game, Florida quickly halted any of the College’s momentum. The Gators quickly rattled off two more goals to obtain a 7-1 advantage.
With 19:36 remaining, the College scored again. Noon took the ball and sprinted behind the Florida goal, and fired a pass to junior attacker Kyrstin Mackrides, who was running straight toward Canington. Mackrides caught the pass, and immediately fired it past Canington for the score.
Following Mackrides’ goal, Florida once again clamped down, rattling off six straight unanswered goals over the next five minutes. Following Nicole Graziano’s goal at the 12:22 mark, Ireland opted for a goalie change, substituting Ferguson for sophomore keeper Colleen Nofi.
“When I brought our starting keeper out, I thought our defense wasn’t stepping up to the plate in terms of what we need to be doing,” Ireland said. “Lucy was getting peppered by the ball and we wanted to take her out for a little bit, give her a mental break, and then get her back in there.”
Throughout the whole game, Florida was able to exploit holes in the Tribe defense with its team speed. Neither of the College’s goalkeepers could hold off the Gators, as Ferguson allowed 14 goals and made five saves while Nofi allowed seven and saved three.
The College then scored the final two goals of the half, both of them by sophomore attacker Taelor Salmon. Salmon’s pair of goals cut slightly into the Gators’ lead and left the Tribe down 13-4 at halftime.
After play resumed, Florida had another offensive explosion, scoring seven unanswered goals to begin the half. With 4:41 remaining, freshman attacker Ellen Shaffrey scored the first of her two goals, and then added another two minutes later. Salmon and Noon both scored goals in the final 1:18, which accounted for the 21-8 final score.
The Gators pressured the Tribe with a suffocating style of defense. College attackers found it difficult to penetrate the Florida defense, and when they managed to, frequently turned the ball over in the face of pressure from the Gators. The Tribe committed seven turnovers in the first half, and never seemed to develop any offensive rhythm. The College managed 13 shots on the game, compared to Florida’s 34.
Individually, Salmon led the way for the Tribe with three goals while Noon and Shaffrey both added two goals apiece. Noon also led the College with two assists.
“Kaleigh definitely stepped up to the plate,” Ireland said. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing, she sticks to the gameplan and gets the job done.
Despite the loss, Ireland believes the College’s challenging non-conference slate has helped strengthened the team, and hopes the lessons the squad has learned in the early going will help it during the conference schedule.
“We have started out tough and I think we came out strong and ready to play and we played a lot of defense in the past two games and I feel like it can only go up from here,” Ireland said.