Northport product Shannon Gilroy turns Florida into a women's lacrosse contender

Florida midfielder Shannon Gilroy drives the ball against

Florida midfielder Shannon Gilroy drives the ball against Syracuse in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse semifinal at Stony Brook University on May 25, 2012. (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

Shannon Gilroy has helped bring the fast break to the state known for spring break.

At the University of Florida, where spring football often takes attention away from the school's top 20 baseball team, women's lacrosse has found a niche. It's booming, and Gilroy, the former high-scoring Northport star, has shot her way into the consciousness of Gator Nation.

"It's amazing. Everyone was really excited in the beginning, even though people didn't really know anything about the sport," said Gilroy, a junior attack/midfielder for a run-and-gun top-five team that is beginning its fifth season of varsity lacrosse. "People would come up to us and ask for autographs and want to know more about the sport. It's definitely a growing sport down here."

Gilroy is one of the primary reasons for the growth spurt.

In her freshman year, she rebounded from an ACL tear suffered in her final high school game (while helping Northport win the state championship) to lead the Gators into the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost a 14-13 overtime heartbreaker to Syracuse in the semifinals. She scored five goals that day, again demonstrating her penchant for big games in the biggest games.

Earlier that season, she scored seven goals in a stunning 14-7 victory over eventual national champion Northwestern. She had scored four goals in her high school finale, helping to get the Tigers into overtime before she hurt her knee.

Last spring, Florida again was bounced out of the tournament by Syracuse, this time in the Elite Eight, but Gilroy had a sensational sophomore season. She improved from 44 goals and seven assists to 52 goals (20th in the nation) and 13 assists, earning second-team All-American honors.

This season, Gilroy is a candidate for the Tewaaraton, the sport's top individual award. But she is far more concerned about her team, which is considered one of a handful of national title contenders along with North Carolina, Syracuse, Northwestern and Maryland.

"It definitely left a sour taste in my mouth to get that far and not make it all the way," Gilroy said. "It's definitely a heart-wrenching feeling. You never want to have that feeling again. It would be a dream come true to win a national title. It's the dream of every lacrosse player and it's what I wanted ever since I was a little girl."

She's had a dream-like career so far. At Northport, a perennial power in Suffolk, on Long Island and in New York, Gilroy started as an eighth-grader and finished with 422 goals, at the time the fourth-highest total in the nation.

There was a learning curve at Florida, partly because she was sidelined for six months with the torn ACL and partly because, as she observed: "I came back to a game that was much more physical than high school lacrosse and I was playing on a team where everyone was a star in high school. I had to learn to play with people who were just as good, if not better than me."

Once she got healthy, Gilroy was a quick study.

"Freshman year was a bit of a struggle, mentally and physically. It took me a while to get my confidence back," she said.

She recalled feeling awkward after "bulldozing" a defender in one of her first practices and wondering, "What's going to happen to me?"

The answer was that she soon would emerge as a star, becoming an instant campus sensation after her seven-goal game against Northwestern.

"That's when I said, 'I'm back!' '' she said. "There was nothing that was going to stop me from reaching my potential."

She "loves" the fact that coach Amanda O'Leary shifts her from attack to midfield depending on the situation and the matchup.

"She handles that pressure really well," O'Leary said. "She is an incredible player, one I'm very lucky to coach. I wouldn't want to coach against her."

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