No. 11 Gator soccer defeats Alabama 4-1

Three second-half goals within a seven-minute span broke open a halftime tie as the No. 11 Florida soccer team (12-3, 5-1 SEC) posted a 4-1 win over Alabama (6-6-2, 1-4-1 SEC) Sunday afternoon under threatening skies at the James G. Pressly Stadium. Three of the Gators’ four goals came from a pair of freshmen.

The Tide scored first in the 21st minute when they were awarded a free kick at midfield. Carly Mygrant sent a lofted ball to just above the six-yard box. Several players tried to get a touch but it was junior Kaitlyn Smith who got a head on it to score her first goal of the season.

Florida tied the score in the 38th minute. Sophomore Taylor Travis received the ball just above the Tides’ final third from Jo Dragotta. Travis sent an angled ball into the box for senior Lindsay Thompson making a run into the box. Thompson got a foot on the ball in a 1v1 situation with Alabama goalkeeper Justine Bernier but the ball deflected outside the right side of the box. Travis hustled over to retrieve it and crossed the ball into the box. Thompson let the ball roll through her legs as freshman Annie Speese was coming through the middle of the box. With her left foot, Speese placed it in at the far post.

Travis liked the effort shown by her teammates on the goal.

“I got the ball from Jo, and I turned, opened up and LT (Lindsay Thompson) made a fantastic run. I slipped her the ball and she just barely nicked it off the keeper and I followed up on that and whipped the ball in. LT dummied it – it went right through her legs – and Annie scored,” Travis said. “It was a very good goal. It’s hard to stop when you get a rhythm like that – not many teams can stop it. We are fortunate enough to have such good personnel who can do that.”

When the clock hit the 70th minute, it started a three-goal flurry for the Gators. Florida went ahead when center back Kathryn Williamson sent a ball to the Alabama box. Freshman Jillian Graff, who just entered the match eight minutes prior, ran onto the bouncing ball and when she saw Bernier was off her line, chipped it into the goal in the 71st minute. The goal was the first for the Gator freshman.

“Kat gave a great ball over the top and I was running through,” Graff said. “The goalie was coming out so I put it over her head. Kat played a great ball through.”

Alabama’s Ashley Willis was called for a handball just a step outside the top of the UA box, giving the Gators a free kick. Speese placed her left-footed shot in the upper slot in the 73rd minute, giving her the third double-goal match of the last eight contests just a day after her 19th birthday.

It was the first of her seven collegiate goals, which ranks second on the team, which came directly off a free kick. For Speese, it was a situation she sees often in practice.

“That’s what we practice every week. That’s the spot that I take for the free kicks in practice so I was really excited when I saw where it was,” Speese said. “They had a huge wall and I knew that it would be hard for her to see, so I didn’t try to kill it or anything like that. I knew that placement was all that mattered.”

Florida’s final goal started when Speese brought the ball to the top of the box and sent it to Graff who was unmarked on the end line. Graff played a square ball to Tahnai Annis making a run through the box and her one-touch shot scored at the near post at 77:28. It was the fourth goal of the season for Annis.

“Annie played a great ball through and I was making the run,” Graff said. “Tahnai was at a great spot in the middle of the box so I was able to fire it to her and she finished it off.”

UF Head Coach Becky Burleigh acknowledged that it was slow start for the Gators, but she liked how the team was able to shake it off.

“I thought we started out really slow, not just because we gave up on the goal, but because we weren’t connecting, just technically not as strong as we usually are. What I said at the end of the game was that it’s a credit to our team that we got ourselves out of that funk. In years past, we might’ve stayed in that,” Burleigh said. “I think it was very good of our team to recognize that we needed a little boost and they were resilient in their ability to get back on track.”

Travis said the team handled most of the halftime pep talk themselves.

“It wasn’t the changes that were made – it was attitude changes that were made. When we got to the locker room, the coaches didn’t need to say a word and we knew what we had to get done,” Travis said. “We said a lot of things to fire each other up and that’s what it took, and that’s how it is.”

The Gators begin a three-match road stretch at Mississippi on Friday, Oct. 14.