ORANGE BEACH, Ala. –For the second consecutive Sunday, the No. 21 Florida soccer team (16-4-2, 9-2 SEC) hoisted a Southeastern Conference banner in celebration of a league victory. Today it was for claiming the program’s eighth SEC Tournament title with a 4-1 win over No. 13 Georgia
(17-3-2, 8-1-2 SEC) Sunday afternoon in front of an Orange Beach SportsPlex crowd of 1,208. Last Sunday, Florida claimed its eighth SEC title with a 3-0 win over Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale.
Florida, making its league leading 11th SEC Tournament final appearance Sunday, was looking to avenge its first-ever loss to the Bulldogs. Georgia took a 2-1 decision in Athens, Ga., on Sept. 28. With Sunday’s win, Florida is now 17-1-1 all-time versus UGA. To get the win with a title on the line was special for UF’s eight member senior class.
“It is definitely a great feeling to come back and play a team that beat us earlier in the season, and for it to be in the championship makes it special,” senior KeLeigh Hudson said. “To win the tournament championship is a great feeling and being a senior it is something that you always want to do, go out on top.”
Some nice combination play by Florida resulted in the Gators taking an early 1-0 lead. Ameera Abdullah, from the left side, sent the ball to Stacy Bishop in the center circle. Bishop drove down the middle of the field before sending the ball into the open space near the top of the box. Megan Kerns ran it down just inside the top of the box, one-touching it back to Abdullah who had made the run from midfield to the box. Abdullah took a couple of touches before scoring from five yards in the ninth minute.
“I read the ball from Megan and called for it,” Abdullah said. “She sent a great ball across to the six yard box and I just placed it.”
Two early second half goals three ticks over the span of a minute gave Florida a 3-0 lead. Bishop scored her team-leading 10th goal of the season off Abdullah’s corner kick at 55:58. Half of Bishop’s goals this season have come off of headers.
“Ameera played the perfect ball,” Bishop said. “I just had to head it in.”
Then Bishop found KeLeigh Hudson all alone on the right side of the box with UGA goalkeeper Michelle Betos off her line. KeLeigh Hudson chipped the ball in at the far post from 14 yards for her ninth goal of the season at 57:01.
“Bishop played a great ball. I was running in behind and the ball bounced in. The keeper was off her line so I put it in over the keeper’s head. I thought she was coming out (to make the stop),” KeLeigh Hudson said. “Stacy played a great ball – I didn’t have to do much with it.”
Immediately after scoring, KeLeigh Hudson ran over the Gator bench to share the celebration with them.
“The bench is such a big part of our wins. They’ve been talking to us and keeping us positive,” KeLeigh Hudson said. “Before the match, they said if I scored a goal, I should come over and celebrate with the bench. So I went over there and celebrated with them because they really help us out so much.”
The first penalty kick called in a Florida match this season went against the Gators. Caroline Simpson converted the shot at 64:21 to end the Gators’ five-match shutout streak. The goal also ended Florida’s school-record shutout minutes at 625. The 1996 team set the previous record of 581 minutes. The shutout minutes is a record that the whole Gator team can take credit for, Burleigh said.
“That’s pretty cool. Our defense is a whole team thing, it’s not just the defense,” Burleigh said. “It’s a whole team thing and I think a lot of it comes from our offense being able to hold onto the ball. We take pride in our defense and I hope that this carries over into the (NCAA) tournament.”
Abdullah scored her second goal of the match at 76:24 to finish the Florida scoring for the day. Shana Hudson brought the ball out of thFlorida half and sent it to Ashley Harris, who was just a few steps into the Georgia half. Harris moved toward the center circle, where her pass found Bishop. The ball played into space above the box by Bishop was run down by Abdullah. Her 12-yard shot deflected off the goalkeeper’s hands into the goal. It was the first multi-goal match for Abdullah this season and the third of her Gator career. The assist was the third of the day for Bishop, making her the sixth Gator to do so and the first since current U.S. National Team standout Abby Wambach turned in three versus Mississippi on Oct. 16, 2001.
Florida placed four on the SEC All-Tournament team. Bishop, who turned in a total of three goals and four assists through the tournament’s three matches, was named the Most Valuable Player. She is the 10th Gator to earn the honor and the first since Stephanie Freeman in 2004.
“It is a nice honor, but it was certainly a team effort out there today and in this tournament,” Bishop said. “It was a great team effort. I can’t credit the defense enough for what they have done over the past weeks. We have only given up two goals in the past 12 games which is unbelievable.”
Joining Bishop on the all-tournament team was Abdullah, Ashlee Elliott and Shelley Lyle. Abdullah and Bishop were also a part of the 2006 SEC All-Tournament team.
Now the Gators await Monday’s NCAA Championship announcement. As the 2007 SEC Tournament champions, Florida is guaranteed a spot in the field. The 64-team field will be revealed sometime in the half hour after 8 p.m. on ESPNews (Cox Communications channel 252 in Gainesville/Ocala). Florida has advanced to the NCAA Championships 10 times since the program’s premiere season in 1995.