More than 4,600 people buzzed around James G. Pressly Stadium, dying to catch the start of the No. 9 Florida Gators’ biggest soccer match of the season thus far between state rivals No. 5 Florida State.
One thousand scampered around with their free “Beat FSU” sunglasses, deemed “hater blockers” by the stadium announcer.
Fans certainly hoped the Gators could block their haters from upstate.
At 4,671 attendees, the stadium’s third largest crowd ever was raucous as the game began.
Less than four minutes later, Florida State’s Dagny Brynjarsdottir booted a powerful shot from 18 yards out in the center of the field that sailed off freshman goalkeeper Taylor Burke’s hands and found twine.
This was the start to an absolute nailbiter Friday night as the Gators dropped the game 3-2 in a chippy contest between two non-conference rivals.
Head coach Becky Burleigh said despite the loss, the game, which was a see-saw of scoring, was great game to be a part of.
“That was an unbelievably great game,” she said. “[There was] an awesome crowd and the atmosphere made it feel like a playoff game.”
Florida began the game notably slow-paced and appeared overmatched as soon as the first goal was scored. The Gators mustered a mere two shots on goal in the first half, losing several turnovers that kept most of the action in their own end.
The crowd sat flat and deflated for most of the first half, having nothing to be pleased about other than a free pair of shades.
Just when it looked as if the Gators were destined to play with no life, an attack in the final minute of the first half led to a corner kick opportunity.
The kick ended up at the feet of junior Erika Tymrak, who dribbled around and fought off a defender to fire her fourth goal of the season from 10 yards out on the left side.
The goal ignited the crowd, which broke into and “orange and blue” chant as the Gators trotted off to the locker room with a 1-1 tie.
Burleigh acknowledged the slow start in her team’s offensive attack before the final minute of the first half.
“I think we did not adjust quickly enough to the tempo of the game,” she said. “This was a very fast-paced game and it took us a while to get into our rhythm, but I think once we did, it became a much more even game.”
Burleigh said FSU’s style of play could work as a learning experience for the Gators going forward.
“The lesson we learned from that is that we half to come out and be ready to play at that tempo and not take a half to get into it,” she said.
The game was also very physical between the two in-state rivals, resulting in four yellow cards given out, three of which to the scrappy Florida State squad. Burleigh said it was an obvious aspect of the game, but one the team will have to deal with going forward.
“It is a little frustrating when obviously fouling No. 17 (Florida’s Erika Tymrak) is a popular thing to do,” she said. “But the referees handled it gave out a few cards, which were very warranted. We’re going to face that all year though.”
Tymrak agreed with her coach noting Florida State’s physicality.
“It’s always frustrating when you get foul after foul and can’t really do anything,” she said. “But you are always going to get fouled. You just have to adjust, and that’s when the other teammates have to step up and help out.”
Florida came out in the second half recharged and put the pressure on Florida State, matching every goal to a 2-2 tie with 23 minutes left.
Florida State retook the lead on a shifty move to break free by the Seminoles’ Tiffany McCarty.
The Gators locked up after that, keeping the action mostly in Seminole territory, and nearly tied the game with three minutes remaining on a one-on-one battle in front of the net where FSU’s keeper Kelsey Wys got a piece of UF’s freshman Havana Solaun’s shot and sent it skimming over the top of the net.
Burleigh said she was pleased with her team’s second-half effort.
“The last twenty minutes or so [Florida State] was on the ropes and we were all over them,” she said. “That was some quality soccer. They beat us in the first half, but in the second half I think we came out and played a lot better.”
After such a heartbreaking loss, an emotional Holly King said that the team must simply take the loss as a chance to get better.
“This is just a really big learning opportunity,” the junior said. “We have to learn from every mistake in this game and it will fire us up for our next match.”
That next match will be Sunday at home against Florida Gulf Coast at 2 p.m.
Tymrak will chalk this one up as a loss for now, but she believes the Gators will grow stronger from the experience and said they look forward to another matchup with the Seminoles.
“FSU is an incredible team. They are super athletic and come out hard, and I honestly just don’t think we were ready for that,” she said. “Now we know how they play and I hope we play them again. Next time we just have to come out with the right mentality.”