Cullen, Florida Keep Hot Hand in Cold Weather
by Jared Shanker | LaxMagazine.com
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Kitty Cullen picked up the loose ball, sprinted 50 yards toward the goal and released a rocket into the back of the net -- all within the first eight seconds of the game.
It was a symbolic beginning, as No. 16 Penn State had no answer for Florida's -- and the nation's -- leading scorer all afternoon in the No. 6 Gators' 13-7 road win at Bigler Field on Saturday.
Cullen totaled seven goals, including three to break a tie and give the Gators (11-1, 2-0 ALC) an 8-5 lead. The final of those seven came in the opening moments of the second half, much like she did the first.
"After they tied it up, we just wanted to get ahead and stay ahead," Cullen said. "Sometimes we'll get in a slump, like Ohio State last weekend. Once they started to come back, we kind of played down to their level.
"This game we really picked it up and played at a high level."
At 4.45 goals per game, Cullen entered the game as the country's leading scorer and only improved on that average with her performance against the Nittany Lions, an American Lacrosse Conference foe. Cullen was doing it without much help, too; five of her goals were unassisted. Cullen would often get the ball near the circle, cut or spin to get inside the defender and then fire a goal past Penn State goalie Dana Cahill, a recent ALC defensive player of the week winner.
When Cullen wasn't charging the goal, she shot with pinpoint accuracy from the outside, scoring a pair of goals from 15 yards away. Cullen took only two shots that didn't result in goals.
Cullen was doing all of this against a Nittany Lions team that allowed only 7.80 goals per game entering Saturday, good for sixth in the country. No other player scored more than four goals against the Lions (6-5, 1-1) this season.
"She's such a dynamic player, a good cutter and a good challenger," Lions first-year coach Missy Doherty said. "It really needs to be a team defense that stops her, and we fell a little bit short on that. She draws a lot of attention and you have to be ready to handle her."
"She got by our 1-v-1 defense and our team wasn't there to back each other up," Lions midfielder Jackie Eastman said.
After the Lions tied the game at 5-5 with 7:27 left in the first half, it wasn't just Cullen who stepped up, though. The entire Gators defense did as well, holding the Lions to just two goals and five shots on goal the rest of the way.
Though she didn't face many shots in the second half, Gators goalie Mikey Meagher, who finished with eight saves, coordinated a defense that kept the Lions' scoring chances to a minimum.
"We knew who we wanted to sort of focus on and I think we weren't finding those marks in the first half, which was evident by the fast break goals that Penn State had scored on us and that can't happen," Gators coach Amanda O'Leary said.
"I think in the second half we played a much more solid game. We were sliding better, we were double teaming a little better and Mikey at goalie played very, very well."
It's arguably the biggest win to date for the Gators, who extended their winning streak to 11 games – and ended the Lions' five-game streak. The Gators never had to leave the state of Florida for those first 10 wins, though, and the last nine of those wins all came in Gainesville. Not only did the Gators pick up a road win, they did it in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, where the temperature was in the 40s and with wind gusts up to 20 mph.
Said Cullen: "We wanted to prove ourselves and show everyone we can travel and play good and play in cold weather."