Women’s lacrosse: Florida opens NCAA tournament with 16-5 win over Denver

Florida, the No. 5 overall seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, scorched unseeded Denver 16-5 in a second-round game Sunday at Dizney Stadium to advance to the quarterfinals. The Gators (18-2), who had a first-round bye, will visit fourth-seeded Syracuse (17-3) on Saturday or Sunday to battle for a spot in the Final Four.

While the win over the Pioneers (18-3) is just a small step in Florida’s quest for its first national title, the seniors who helped start the program in 2010 are grateful for every tournament victory.

“This is definitely a huge win,” attacker Kitty Cullen said. “There’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle, and in the end, every win is something we’re going to be happy about.”

The Gators scored the first three goals of the game and did so in the opening three minutes. They pushed their lead to 12-1 by halftime.

Cullen had three goals in the first half and finished with a game-high five. She has 48 goals this season.

Shannon Gilroy and Ashley Bruns each scored four times, and Brittany Dashiell had three assists.

The Gators limited Denver to 14 shots on goal, and Mikey Meagher stopped nine of them.

It was the final home game for 13 seniors — including defender Jamie Reeg, from Park Vista High School — who took a leap by coming to Florida for its inaugural season in 2010. They pushed the Gators to the Final Four last year and have a strong chance at playing for a national title later this month.

“This is a very special group,” coach Amanda O’Leary said. “They will go down in history and always have a special place in my heart.”

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