A second-half three-goal outburst returned the Southeastern Conference title to the University of Florida as the No. 11 Gators (14-4-1, 11-2 SEC) claimed a 3-0 win Thursday at South Carolina’s (6-9-4, 3-7-3 SEC) Eugene E. Stone III Stadium. It is the 12th title in the 18-year history of the Florida soccer program, a total which leads the league.
Florida entered Thursday’s final match of the SEC regular-season as the league leader but the Gators needed a win to ensure sole possession of the 2012 title. Teams receive three points for a win and one for a tie toward the league standings. Florida entered Thursday’s match with 30 points while Texas A&M was just two points behind. The three points earned put Florida on top with 33 points while Texas A&M finished second with 31 points after its 2-1 overtime win over Missouri Thursday.
After a patient and scoreless first half Thursday, the Gators came out focused on the attack.
A give-and-go play gave the Gators their first goal. Junior Adriana Leon, on the right side the box, sent the ball to senior Erika Tymrak at the middle of the 18-yard line. Tymrak immediately touched it back to Leon as she continued her diagonal run through the box. Leon took a touch and then sent in her fourth goal of the season at 64:15.
“I don’t remember too much. I remember getting the ball back and I was just carrying it toward the goal,” Leon said. “I shot it with my left foot into the left corner and it went into the net.”
Although Leon may be a bit foggy on exactly how the goal materialized, it is yet another memorable game-winning goal for the transfer from Notre Dame. Her first goal as a Gator was the overtime winner at Auburn. She also scored the game-winner at then No. 5 Texas A&M. Thursday’s goal was her fourth of the season.
The Gators scored again on a play that started with a cross deep in the Gamecock half from Taylor Travis. The ball was deflected high up in the air by USC goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo. That is when Havana Solaun made a play which fellow sophomore Annie Speese credited as a key component of the goal.
“The ball got played across by Taylor (Travis). It got popped up and the keeper went up for it but Havana did a great job challenging her. She did it without fouling the keeper, which is really hard to do. So she gets full credit,” Speese said. “I just got the rebound and volleyed it in. I just hit it hard because I knew that it wasn’t about placement there.”
Her left-footed volley in the 73rd minute was the first of a pair of goals for the sophomore. Speese scored again in the 87th minute on a play she and Tessa Andujar have been looking to develop all season.
“I’m really excited about the second one because Tessa and I finally connected on that cross. We’ve been talking about it all season. She always does a great job of driving down the end line and getting herself in a position to cross. She usually drives it across but I’ve been telling her I’m going to pop out like that because the backline is going to be dropping. So this time she found me and it went in.”
The two goals ups Speese’s season goals total to five. It was her first double-goal match of the season and the fourth of her career. She is the third Gator to turn in a double-goal match in 2012, joining Solaun (versus Florida International) and senior Jo Dragotta (versus Mississippi State).
There was plenty for this edition of the Gators to overcome during their hunt for the 2012 SEC crown. Senior All-American Kathryn Williamson, a two-time All-SEC first team selection at center back and the 2010 SEC Defender of the Year, was sidelined after the fifth match with a knee injury. Tymrak, Florida’s other All-American, missed three league matches after spraining an ankle versus Tennessee. Sophomore Annie Bobbitt, who had taken Williamson’s spot after her injury, also suffered a knee injury last Friday at Alabama and has been out of the lineup since. But the Gators still found a way to still rack up wins in 11 of the league’s 13-match schedule.
“I think our team showed a lot of resilience in this 13-game schedule. But ultimately I think this team really showed a lot of character in our ability to overcome the adversity we faced. Whatever it was, we dealt with it. Our depth really helped in that situation,” UF Head Coach Becky Burleigh said.
“I’m really proud of this senior group,” she continued. “They put winning the SEC as one of their big goals and they just willed us back to winning the SEC.”
Florida now advances to the SEC Tournament as the No. 1 seed. With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the league, the SEC Tournament expanded to 10 teams. All action at the 2012 SEC Tournament will be available via web stream. The SEC Digital Network will live stream Monday and Wednesday matches and Friday’s semifinal matches will appear on ESPN3. ESPNU will cover the SEC Championship match.
Courtesy of UF Communications