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Confidence And Belief Pay Off as Lions Knock Off No. 2 Florida

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By Michael Renahan, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Believe. That was the word every Penn State women's lacrosse player kept saying over and over. Believe we can do this. The fans were yelling it, the coaches were preaching it and the players were responding.

The team was in the midst of its most intense game of the 2013 season. No. 2 Florida had taken a three-goal lead into the half, but the Nittany Lions were not fazed. You could see it during their huddle, you could hear it in their voices.

8785506.jpegThey knew they could win this game. The believed they would win this game.

"Missy just keeps telling us that we need to love it and believe it and that is what we definitely took today out on the field and everything, it was amazing. You could see it through everybody's face that we wanted it. When I looked at Florida, it just didn't look like they wanted it and we wanted it more today," midfielder Ally Heavens said.

Coach Missy Doherty told her team at halftime a simple message, "Keep It Up." She had seen her Nittany Lions (7-3, 2-0) battle with the Gators the whole first half and knew they were right there. One groundball away, one good pass away, her team was right there.

"They were playing with great energy and we were getting some really good looks on offense. Defense was playing well, they had some really good slides and help defense," Doherty said.  "I thought we were playing great, we want to continue to get the draw and battle for those balls and they definitely did that in the second half."

The Nittany Lions came out of their halftime huddle with new energy and focus. They were trailing the Gators (13-1, 1-1) 6-9 but knew they had the skills to take over the game. Penn State outscored Florida 10-2 in the second half, including a six-goal streak to take the lead 11-10. 

The win marks the first time Penn State has beaten Florida in the program's history. It was also the highest ranked opponent Penn State defeated since beating second-ranked North Carolina in 2007.

"It was just Missy's belief and the whole team's belief in it. We just had this whole thing come over us before the game and everybody was having visions that we were going to win this game and it's just the whole belief and love for the game that we had today. It doesn't come down to anything but that," Heavens said.

The Florida offense was shut down by the Nittany Lion defense in the second half. The Gators registered nine goals on 18 first half shots, but were limited to just two goals on three shots in the second half. The effort allowed the aggressive Penn State offense to get in a groove and score 10 goals on 17 second-half shots.

"In the second half we started to push the ball which was good, but at the same time we had great possessions on offense and that's something we struggled with all year, so the fact that we had the ball so much in the second half and were controlling the tempo of the game was huge," attacker Maggie McCormick said after the victory.

At the start of the second half, Penn State took control and seemed to be winning every draw. The Nittany Lions won only six draw controls in the first half to Florida's 10, but registered nine in the second half to only two by Florida.

"We came out saying we need to win every draw and just be composed because they win a lot of their draws. I think we definitely took them out of their game today with the draws and we beat them," Heavens said. "We just needed to keep our composure and we definitely did."

"We're never going to give up. Our offense, no matter how much we go down, our offense knows that we can score and when we got that momentum back our defense did a great job of keeping that momentum up and allowing us more chances on offense," McCormick said.

The defense was the focal point of practice all week for Penn State. Doherty and her team knew they were going up against an elite offense in Florida and had to bring their best game to win, and they did. They kept the Gators offense quiet and out of sync the entire second half. The frustrated Gator offense could not adjust to the extremely effective Nittany Lion defense.

Freshman goalkeeper Emi Smith played the full 60 minutes and stopped 11 shots to get her seventh win of the season.

"I honestly can't even tell you how excited I am. My nerves toward the end of the game were out of control. I knew we would come out with this win because I have such confidence with Penn State and the Penn State lacrosse team," Smith said. "We pump each other up a lot on attack, especially, so I think that gave us momentum on defense to do well. In my mind I always say to myself 'if my defense plays well I'm going to have their back and make the save.' The attack was playing unbelievable and the defense had their back the entire time."

Penn State played discipline lacrosse to get the victory. They had fewer turnovers, nine to seven, fewer fouls, 33-15, took more shots, 29-21 and collected more groundballs 11-9; the perfect recipe for an American Lacrosse Conference win.

Tatum Coffey led the Nittany Lions in points with five. She netted four goals and an assist in the victory. Along with Coffey, Maggie McCormick added four points of her own with two goals and two assists.

"It's a great step for us to play a good game of sixty minutes. We were in it, they went up 2-0, we tied it. They were up on us at halftime, we came back and that just showed the fight that we had today," Doherty said.

The Nittany Lions trailed for over 35 minutes before Mackenzie Cyr tied it with her second goal of the game. It was Penn State's third goal in four minutes.

"I thought to myself, 'Okay, now they did it for me now I'm going to do it for them'," goalkeeper Emi Smith said.  "We're one team."

Smith, who struggled against No. 1 Maryland, earlier this month, said she wanted to be more aggressive in the net and set a tone. She achieved her goal against Florida, turning in a superb performance.

"Amy [Altig] helped me throughout the week to be unbelievably aggressive on those high shots. She said, 'okay they are going to come at you high all day long' and I was prepared to see those high ones," Smith said. "Yeah a couple got past me because they were really great shots, Florida is a really good shooting team, and I just thought to myself, 'okay just relax and say what Amy told me to do'."

After Cyr tied the game, Penn State strung together three goals to take its largest lead. The defense did not allow Florida to score in the final five minutes, their best performance thus far.

"I mean we play confident every single game but I think with all the excitement that we had when we were catching up to them was unbelievable. Everyone was just boiling, boiling in their system and it was great," Smith said.

The Nittany Lions also showcased how their young players have grown over these first 10 games. The sophomore and freshman players accounted for 17 points during the day including 13 of the team's 16 goals.

"Jenna [Mosketti] and Madison [Cyr] coming up with the draws, everybody brings something to the table and that's why we won today. It was so great to be all together and we won that all together, like everybody.  It was just a great game," Heavens said.

"Florida is good enough to be the number one team in the country, they were undefeated coming in, they're just an awesome team, but to beat them and to beat them by how much we did it shows that we deserve to be in that top five too. This is huge for our team," McCormick said.

This was the Nittany Lions' first home game outside of the 2013 season.  They have outscored their opponents 67-39 at home and have a record of 4-0 in Happy Valley, and 429 people attended the match, the highest attendance this season.

Penn State now turns its attention to the Northwestern Wildcats. The team heads to Evanston on Friday for an 8 p.m. start. The win over Florida gives the Nittany Lions their best start to conference play in the Missy Doherty era. They are well aware they have many more tough games to come, but as Doherty said for now, "We'll take it."

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