For two months the world that is Southeastern Conference soccer teetered on its axis, but order was restored Sunday when Florida defeated Vanderbilt, 3-0 on a sun-splashed November afternoon at Pressly Stadium
The Gators, the league’s preseason favorite, scored three second-half goals to win their second consecutive SEC crown and their eighth in school history. The last weekend of September they started 0-2 after back to back losses to Georgia and Tennessee, but rallied with nine consecutive wins – all in league play – to surpass the Bulldogs and Volunteers on the last day of regular-season conference play.
“I think this one is really special because of the circumstance with which we won it,” Florida coach Becky Burleigh said, moments before receiving a congratulatory hug from UF athletic director Jeremy Foley. “We had to battle back each week and keep the faith that we could still win it.
“We had a chat after the Tennessee loss and we just knew we were playing too well not to turn it around. We just had to keep the faith and work hard to make it happen. I think the team really bought in and believed that. That’s a credit to them.”
Florida, ranked 22nd nationally, buffed its record to 13-4-2 overall and 9-2 in the league play and earned the No. 1 seed for this week’s SEC tournament in Orange City Ala. The Gators will play Kentucky, the team that knocked from the tourney last year, Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Memories of that loss, however, have been put on hold to celebrate regular-season success. Florida has outscored its opponents 25-1 during its winning streak.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” senior midfielder Stacy Bishop said. “At the beginning of the SEC, we lost those first two and we were really down and now this. It’s like opposite extremes.”
Vandy played the Gators to a scoreless tie in the first half before the hosts got goals from Ashlee Elliott, Ameera Abdullah and Bishop, who also chipped in with an assist as did Lauren Hyde and Megan Kerns.
“We just really wanted it and we saw that time was running out and we said that we knew that once we got one in, (goals) would come,” Bishop said. As soon as that one came in, it broke the ice and (we) just turned it on.”
The three goals came during a span of nearly eight minutes. Elliott scored on a rebound during a goal mouth scramble; Abdullah scored on during a one-on-one breakaway; and Bishop tallied the game’s last goal off a free kick from 18 yards out.
“We’re confident, we’re playing well, and we’re trusting each other,” Bishop said. “We’re getting along as a team. It’s been fun, to be honest.”