Shannon Kavanagh made an attempt to drive towards Colorado goalkeeper, Julia Lisella. Tied at one with roughly 20 minutes remaining in the game’s first half, Florida’s junior midfielder was looking to give her team its first lead of the game.
She composed herself for the shot and scored. The 545 Gators fans that packed the seats of Dizney Stadium erupted in unison. But in a split second, celebrations were replaced by confusion. No goal.
Instead, the preseason All-American midfielder drew a yellow card for a reason unbeknownst to everyone.
“I’d rather have them out there making mistakes than not taking those opportunities,” coach Amanda O’Leary said.
During No. 14 Florida’s over three-hour, 11-10 win over No. 18 Colorado, 39 fouls and seven yellow cards were given while both sides combined for 45 shots on goal.
For the fans, what was first an enjoyable outing in sunny, 68-degree weather became emotional torture.
Colorado’s largest lead of three goals happened in the first half and lasted 40 seconds. In the second, Florida fell behind two goals for nearly three minutes. The game was tied five times.
Each score, every tiebreaker and all 13 fouls called that were in favor of the Centennial State vacuumed the sounds of Gators support, replacing them with murmurs of frustration.
But Florida prevailed.
“We would get three goals, they would get three goals; we would get one goal they would get they would answer back,” O’Leary said. “We didn’t give up.”
The Gators’ spirit became contagious with each passing moment. With each goal, fans found life, and with each uncalled foul, they grew restless.
But the effects of the team’s energy were more noticeable on the field. Florida lost ten seniors to graduation last spring. They were replaced by 14 freshmen whose nervousness was quickly replaced by confident play.
“They were like deer in headlights,” O’Leary said. “Once they stepped out on the field, and they got some plays under their belt, I thought they did a fantastic job.”
Florida’s foundation for success started with the veterans. Seven of the eight caused turnovers were produced by upperclassmen, while Kavanagh and junior midfielder Brianna Harris maintained the team’s offense, combining for nine goals.
And through the confidence imbued by their experienced teammates, the freshmen flourished. Attacker Kaala Puglisi recorded two assists and ground balls in her first collegiate game, but Emily Heller stole the show.
With 8:31 remaining in the game, Colorado’s Zoe Lawless scored a third time, tying the game at ten. With 3:40 left in the game, Kavanagh found the back of the net for her fourth, and the game’s final score.
Then the freshman midfielder took over. She won the first draw, giving Florida 90 more seconds to ice its lead. Two fouls later, and with less than a minute left, a Kavanagh turnover gave the Buffaloes possession of the ball and a chance to force overtime.
They patiently passed from player to player, hoping Florida’s zone defense would break. The crowd was speechless as it hoped the worst-case scenario wouldn’t occur.
With ten seconds left, a safe pass to Colorado’s sophomore midfielder Bailey Hawkins caught Heller’s attention. She lunged to make a deflection, succeeding and quickly snatching the ground ball, stealing all hope from the Buffaloes.
In her first game, Heller had two goals, one assist and performed the most crucial play of the game.
Her heroics ended the fans’ anxiety, and what ensued was a deafening roar.
Follow Christian on Twitter @unofficialchris and contact him at [email protected].