After consecutive losses to its rival, Florida’s soccer team can finally celebrate. The Gators assuaged two seasons of frustration Sunday, defeating Florida State, 2-1, before 2,412 fans at Pressly Stadium.
The victory was UF’s first over the Seminoles since 2004. History, shall we say, has been reversed.
“This is a game we’ve let get away the last couple years,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said. “It was a trend we wanted to change. Certainly this goes a long way to doing that.”
The non-conference win comes a week after the Gators lost to No. 2 Notre Dame, 2-0, even though UF out shot the Irish by nearly a 3-1 ratio. Today, there was no doubt about the outcome. KeLeigh Hudson delivered the game winner with about six minutes left.
“A textbook finish,” Burleigh said. “It was terrific. KeLeigh finished that with such composure. That’s not an easy thing to do.”
The pivotal play—set up by assists from Shelley Lyle and Karly Findorff—stymied momentum generated by the Seminoles (2-2), who trailed 1-0 most of the match, but got a goal from Mami Yamaguchi off a free kick to tie the game in the second half. The ninth-ranked FSU squad was thinking overtime. The 14th-ranked Gators had other plans, particularly after wasting multiple chances during their first loss of the season.
“It’s a great feeling,” Lyle said. “This just proves what a great team we are. Now it finally shows on the scoreboard. This is how it should be, I think. It was just awesome. What really excited me was there were six minutes left in the game and we didn’t panic. We didn’t worry. We played like we were taught to play.”
It was Hudson’s second game-winner of the season. Her first came against Indiana in the season opener. This one, from 8 yards out and aimed toward the far post, was special since Florida has lost to the Seminoles three out of the last four years.
“Only the seniors have beaten FSU once,” Hudson said. “In-state rival, ranked team, it was a big win for us. We’re very excited to finally beat the Seminoles.”
The Gators’ win came without two of their best players. Ameera Abdullah, last year’s second leading scorer, is out indefinitely because of an ankle injury she sustained Friday against South Florida. Melanie Booth, an All-Southeastern Conference defender, is playing for Canada in the 2007 Women’s World Cup and isn’t expected back in Gainesville until October.
“We’ve always said we have talent on this team,” Lyle said. “This year we have depth upon depth. Against Texas A&M we play with every single player. The level never drops and we win. We play USF. We play every single player and the level never drops and we win. I can’t wait until we get our awesome players back. I can’t wait to see what that brings about; it’s going to be good.”
The Gators’ first goal came from Ashley Harris, who headed a beautiful cross into the far corner 15 minutes into the non-conference match. Shana Hudson started the possession with a nice pass to Ashlee Elliott, who placed a perfect ball to Harris about 5 yards out.
“Basically,” said Harris, “all I had to do was get a body part on it.”
Defensively, Florida received contributions from Lauren Hyde, who prevented two FSU goals with timely deflections; and goalkeeper Katie Fraine, who was credited with a save and smothered several FSU possessions.
Depth may have played a factor during the warm September afternoon. Florida used 18 players, five more than the Seminoles. Nine FSU players logged 80 minutes or more.
The Gators (3-1) visit Illinois Friday and Drake on Sunday; their next home match is set for Sept. 21 against Florida Atlantic.