Florida’s first major test of the season arrived Saturday in the form of the No. 2 ranked North Carolina Tarheels. Despite an admirable effort to keep up with one of the nation’s top teams, the Gators were eventually overwhelmed by the surgical UNC attack.
No. 7 Florida (1-1) fell to No. 2 North Carolina (3-0) 15-11 Saturday in a battle of two top-ten programs. The Tarheels outshot Florida 34-25 and forced 10 Gators turnovers.
“We played hard against a tough top-five opponent today,” head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “A lot of credit goes to how resilient our players showed to be after finding themselves down.”
Florida wasted no time in finding the opening goal. Sophomore Danielle Pavinelli weaved through the Tarheel defense to score the opening goal on the Gators opening possession. The 2021 American Conference freshman of the year finished the game contributing to eight total points.
North Carolina answered quickly with a goal from Scottie Rose Growney. The fifth-year out of Berwyn, PA scored 46 goals last season for the Tarheels. Both teams opened the matchup playing aggressive man defense and pushing the ball up hard in transition. Junior Emily Heller reclaimed the lead for Florida on an unassisted goal. The goal marks Heller’s second goal on just three shots this season.
The lead was short-lived, as UNC began to find their rhythm late in the first quarter. Junior Elizabeth Hillman found the back of the net from the 12-foot arc to tie and Jamie Ortega made it a 3-2 Tarheel lead just moments after. The ‘Heels would score twice more in the first to close out the quarter with a 5-2 lead.
The second quarter proved to be just as back and forth, as both teams traded goals with the other. Florida was able to close some ground thanks to two late-quarter goals from Pavinelli, but UNC maintained control, having an answer and then some for each of UF’s points. At the end of the first half, the Tarheel advantage was 9-6 over Florida.
It was a much quieter third quarter for Florida. The Gators managed just two shots on goal and converted just one off the stick of freshman Emma LoPinto. North Carolina, on the other hand, kept their momentum going. The Tarheels peppered Gators keeper Sarah Reznick with seven shots on goal in the third and found the back of the net three times. Entering the final quarter of play, Florida trailed 13-7.
Despite a four-goal effort in the final period, UNC answered with two of their own and Florida relinquished victory to the Tarheels. Pavinelli led the way for the Gators, finishing with six goals and two assists, both team highs. Reznick earned seven saves on 15 goals allowed.
“It is great to face such strong competition early in the season,” O’Leary said. “Now we can go learn from this and get ready for Maryland next Saturday.”
Florida travels to College Park, MD for their next contest against the Maryland Terrapins on Feb. 26 at noon.