Florida drops Texas Tech 3-0 in front of World Cup stars

After opening the season with a four-game road trip, the No. 13 Florida Gators (4-1-0) finally took the field at home in front an electric crowd of 3,728, the fifth-largest in school history.

Women’s World Cup stars and former Gators Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts were honored at the game, and the pair jumped to its feet as Florida took an early 1-0 lead over Texas Tech (3-2-0) in the 33rd minute on a fantastic piece of work in the attacking third.

Freshman Tessa Andujar worked the ball around the top of the arc and fired a crisp pass to junior Erika Tymrak into the right side of the box. Tymrak took one touch and buried it past the Texas Tech keeper into the top left corner of the net to put the Gators up 1-0 with her second goal of the season.

“It was awesome, the crowd was awesome,” Tymrak said. “Tessa held it up perfectly, gave it right back and I just saw the opening.”

With a 1-0 lead, Florida put the visitors on the back heel, pressing repeatedly in the attacking third as Andujar and sophomore Taylor Travis provided a spark for the Gators in the midfield.

Florida took its one-goal lead into the break as the crowd rose to its feet to applaud the former Florida soccer stars, who were both part of the Gators’ 1998 national championship team.

“It’s humbling,” Wambach said. “It’s great that people are rallying around the sport. I’m proud to not only hail from Gainesville and be a Gator, but also be able to continue to make the Gator Nation proud through the ventures that I continue to do.”

The halftime break seemed to breathe even more life into the Florida attack, as the Gators came out and niftily worked their way around the Texas Tech defense with some precision passing.

Florida finally broke the Texas Tech defense down in the 56th minute when Tymrak won a ball off a turnover about 35 yards from goal right in the middle.

She dribbled forward and forced the defender to commit to her before laying it off to her right into the box for Travis on an overlapping run. Travis struck the shot right across the face of goal to the far post to put Florida up 2-0. The assist was Tymrak’s third of the season.

Travis has continued her terrific run of play dating back to the end of the 2010 season, and her goal gave her a third consecutive Friday-night goal.

Tymrak notched her second goal of the night and third of the season in the 67th minute when senior Jazmyne Avant took a ball down the left sideline and fired a low cross across the face of goal. Tymrak got on the end of it to drop it into the right side of the net for a 3-0 Florida lead.

“Jazmyne is fast as heck and she got down the line,” Tymrak said. “She crossed it and McKenzie was there near post, Annie was slot, so we had the whole box in group how it’s supposed to be. I was far post and got the end of it. It was a great cross by Jazmyne, I owe her the goal.”

Florida started off a little shaky in the back against Texas Tech, as the Gators struggled early on to connect passes between the back line and the midfield.

“I just think we weren’t as sharp as I’d like to see us,” coach Becky Burleigh said. “I’m happy with the shutout, I’m happy to get three goals, but I just don’t think we were that sharp and I thought we took our foot off the gas a little bit.”

A few miscues gave the Red Raiders some opportunities on goal, but Texas Tech couldn’t take advantage with Florida starting freshman goalkeeper Taylor Burke in the net.

Burke looked comfortable and confident in front of the home crowd, recording three saves on the night.

“I thought she did fine,” Burleigh said. “To get a shutout in your first night in front of a big crowd ever probably, that’s a big deal.”

She had the luxury of having All-American Kathryn Williamson in the central back role, and Williamson bailed out the freshman keeper once in the first half after Burke collided with a defender coming out for a ball.

The ball rolled out to Texas Tech’s Taylor Lytle, who rifled in a low shot. Williamson had covered the net and cleared it out easily.

“She’s doing awesome,” Williamson said of the freshman keeper. “I’m really impressed with Taylor, especially as a freshman being commanding in her box. I think there’s only better things to come from her.”

Florida will have a little time off before it takes on in-state rival Florida State next Friday at 7 p.m. in James G. Pressly Stadium.

“It’s nice to have a one-game weekend, especially with as much as we’ve been on the road,” Burleigh said. “It’ll be a good physical and mental break for our players.”