Gators endure early lesson vs. No. 1

Florida falls to defending national champion North Carolina, 13-10

Published: Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 7:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 7:27 p.m.

There isn’t a more daunting match-up than facing the No. 1 team in the country.

But when you factor in it being the season opener against the defending national champion, it would have been understandable for Florida to lose the fight early in the contest.

Hosting North Carolina on Saturday, the Gators lacrosse team went back-and-forth with the Tar Heels before eventually falling 13-10 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

“This is a phenomenal team. It’s why they’re number one in the country, it’s certainly a well-deserved honor,” eighth-year UF coach Amanda O’Leary said. “Am I disappointed we lost? Absolutely, but what a great learning experience for our team. They certainly exploited some of our deficiencies, both offensively and defensively and through the midfield.

“I wouldn’t pass up a game like this for all the world, even though we lost.”

Florida got the scoring started in the first 45 seconds with a goal from sophomore Sydney Pirreca, but the momentum wouldn’t last. The Tar Heels would go on to score three unanswered goals before Pirreca notched another.

Pirreca and her older sister, junior midfielder Shayna Pirreca, each would turn in a hat trick for the Gators, something that didn’t come as a surprise to their head coach.

“There’s a reason they’re scoring those goals,” O’Leary said of the Pirreca sisters. “Every day after practice, they’re the ones staying after. They’re putting in the extra effort.”

UNC would take a 6-3 lead into the halftime break, but Florida wasn’t done fighting.

The teams traded goals before a strike from the elder Pirreca knotted things at 9-all. The Gators, however, couldn’t get any closer over the final stretch thanks to a pair of goals in the waning minutes from North Carolina senior midfielder Sammy Jo Tracy. Considering it was the first game with the NCAA-mandated 90-second possession clock, the Gators felt the added sense of urgency was a good fit for their style of play.

“I think our offense is more of a run-and-gun type of play, so it’s not that big of a deal for us,” Shayna Pirreca said. “I think it was a really good effort by us.”

After an exhibition match with the Scotland National Team on Wednesday, the Gators continue their stretch of games against the nation’s perennial powers when sixth-ranked Southern California comes to town Feb. 24. While it doesn’t necessarily boost their national ranking, O’Leary said facing powerhouse programs in the early portion of the schedule can only help the team.

“It’s a loss and that hurts, but it’s a lot better than if we go out there and just roll it out and win by 20,” O’Leary said. “I think these close games, how we handle it mentally and physically, I think it’s very good for us.”

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