GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The No. 7 Florida soccer team (14-2-1, 9-0 SEC) used a 3-0 win over Arkansas (11-6, 4-5 SEC) to claim the Southeastern Conference title Thursday evening in front of a James G. Pressly Stadium crowd of 1,893. The title was the ninth in the program’s 14-year history.
With two matches remaining in the SEC season, Florida knew it needed a win Thursday to claim at least a share of the league title. With the win and a tie by the league’s No.2 team, LSU, on Thursday, Florida takes sole possession of the 2008 SEC title with an insurmountable eight-point lead with two matches remaining. Teams receive three points for a win and one point for a tie.
The win is the third consecutive for the Gator program and was quite different from the team’s 2007 title. Last year, the Gators opened up league play with two losses, but won its next nine to take the title. Florida did celebrate this title tonight, but it was short-lived because the team has two road matches remaining versus league teams that are both unbeaten in 2008 home action – LSU on Oct. 26 and South Carolina on Oct. 30.
“Well, it never gets old. Winning the SEC was one of our goals at the beginning of the season,” UF Head Coach Becky Burleigh said. “We still have a couple of games to go and we have bigger goals too. It was a short-lived celebration because we need to focus on our next match versus LSU.”
The only goal of the first half began when freshman Lindsay Thompson was about the make a run, but was fouled just a few steps above the box. Megan Kerns scored on the 25-yard free kick for her 10th goal of the season. It was the second goal Arkansas has allowed in an opening half this season. When Kerns was a freshman in 2005, it was her free-kick goal from a similar distance that provided Florida the 1-0 margin versus Arkansas.
“It was great to get that lead before halftime – that usually helps our team in the second half,” Kerns said. “I think it was really good for us.”
Freshman Tahnai Annis turned in her first multi-goal match as Gator, scoring twice in just over three minutes. Her first was the result of heavy Gator pressure on the UA goal. Finally Ameera Abdullah took a shot that UA’s goalkeeper Britni Williams stopped, but Annis was there to clean up the rebound with a six-yard shot at 66:01. Just a few minutes later, Kerns brought the ball down the right side. She sent a low serve into the box. Abdullah was making a run through the center of the box, but she knew Annis was coming down the other side so she let the ball continue traveling past her. Abdullah’s presence in the box drew the attention of the Razorback goalkeeper, allowing Annis to score at the far post corner at 69:05 for her eighth goal of the season.
Burleigh said Annis has a knack for finding the ball in opportunistic situations.
“She finds herself in great places and with great opportunities. Some of the players did a great job in helping her score tonight,” Burleigh said. “On her second goal, it was a great serve by Megan and Ameera dummied it, which basically beat the keeper, and Tahnai just had to finish.”
Her eight goals are the most by a Gator freshman since Christine Johnson turned in eight in the 2001 season. Scoring in a match that could help the team achieve a goal made the moment more memorable for Annis. It is a moment she would like to repeat in future seasons.
“It was really exciting, especially in the game that we clinched the SEC title. It was really exciting for me,” Annis said. “It was a good start for our class. This is Florida’s third (SEC title) in a row. Hopefully after the seniors leave this year, we can keep it going.”
Next up, Florida continues action versus SEC Western Division rivals when it travels to Baton Rouge, La., to meet the league’s No. 2 team, LSU, on Sunday, Oct. 23. The Tigers are ranked No. 13 by Soccer America and are in the midst of an 18-match unbeaten streak at the LSU Soccer Complex. LSU and South Carolina played to a scoreless tie Thursday evening in Columbia, S.C. Start time is set for 2 p.m. (ET) and the match will be broadcast live on COX Sports (Gainesville/Ocala Cox Cable channel 69). The match can also be heard http://www.GatorZone.com with Ryan Collins calling the action.
Scoring Summary: 1st 2nd Final
Arkansas 0 0 0
Florida 1 2 3
UF – Megan Kerns (unassisted) 41:21
UF – Tahnai Annis (Ameera Abdullah) 66:01
UF – Annis (Kerns) 69:05
Minutes Saves GA
Arkansas Britni Williams 90:00 7 3
Florida Meghan Berlingo 90:00 4 0
Statistical Summary: UA UF
Shots 8 12
Shots on goal 4 10
Saves 7 4
Corner Kicks 2 4
Fouls 5 7
Offside 3 1