One month they struggle; the next they surge. So it is for the Gator soccer team, which defeated Alabama 5-1 during an overcast Sunday afternoon at Pressly Stadium.
After an 0-2 start in Southeastern Conference play in late September, the Gators have won five consecutive matches, four by shutout, and inched their record to 9-4-2 overall and 5-2 in league play as they approach the last week of October.
On Sept. 30 after road losses to Tennessee and Georgia, Florida found itself hovering near mediocrity with a 4-4-2 record, but the Gators kept the faith that their shots would eventually draw more nylon than iron and now they have.
UF recorded 15 shots on goal. Alabama had one.
“A lot of it has to do with finishing,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said. “I liked everything we were doing before in September, except for finishing. Now we’re scoring some goals and when you score some early goals, the whole game kind of relaxes and everyone just kind of takes a deep breath. When it’s a tight game, 0-0, it changes the complexion of the game.”
The five goals allowed by Alabama (9-7-1, 2-5-1) marked a season high. Not that the Crimson Tide should feel bad. The Gators have outscored their last five foes 14-1, tallying two goals or more against three of those five opponents.
“I think we’re making a concerted effort to get runs in the box to make things difficult for the defenders,” Burleigh said. “Our players are taking that to heart and it’s paid off.”
Sunday’s five goals, by the way, matched Florida’s season high of five cranked out against Mississippi State last weekend.
“There’s really not much difference from when we were losing to winning, except for the fact that the ball’s going in the net now,” senior defender Mel Booth said. “We were getting opportunities before. We just couldn’t get it in the net. I really don’t think we’re playing that much different.”
Although the goals have flowed like honey in October, the Florida’s defense has been equally impressive. Had Alabama not scored with five minutes left, the Gators would have matched the five straight shutouts set by the 1999 team.
“We would have liked not to have given up that last goal,” Burleigh said. “We’re scoring so much that it’s difficult for the other teams to get their offense going. I think it’s a case where the best defense is a good offense.”
Florida scored early and often against the Crimson Tide. The Gators bolted to a 4-0 first-half lead behind goals from Shana Hudson, Stacy Bishop, Ameera Abdullah and Ashley Harris.
Bishop, who contributed the Gators’ only second-half goal, finished the affair with two scores and an assist. The senior midfielder has tallied six goals in the last eight matches. Four of them have come off her forehead.
“She’s scored some great goals and a lot of them are off her head,” Burleigh said. “That’s pretty exciting. She’s a threat on the set pieces and she was again today.”
In all, UF generated 28 shots to Alabama’s five. Booth had two assists. KeLeigh Hudson, Megan Kerns and Lauren Hyde each had one.
Four of UF’s five goals came within 10 yards. The first came off a deflection when Hudson launched a volley toward the far post from 18 yards out early in the first half.
“Coaches told us to keep believing in the system and that it would pay off,” Bishop said. “Once it did, it just keeps rolling.”
Florida visits Arkansas Thursday before returning home to face LSU on Sunday at noon.