Gators soccer opens SEC Tourney hunt

The No. 11 University of Florida soccer team (14-4-1, 11-2 SEC) faces Mississippi (13-8, 5-8 SEC) Wednesday in the Gators’ opening match of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Match time is set for 6 p.m. ET at the Orange Beach Sportsplex in Orange Beach, Ala.

When the two teams met for their regular-season match on Sept. 28 in Gainesville, three different Gators scored in Florida’s 3-1 win. Sophomore Havana Solaun put the Gators on the board in the 15th minute when she scored off the cross from Taylor Travis. Fellow sophomore Jillian Graff, making her first start of the season, scored for the second consecutive match with her goal in the 51st minute. The Rebels narrowed the lead to a single goal with their strike in the 54th minute but junior Caroline Triglia gave the Gators some breathing room when she volleyed in the deflection off her shot in the 75th minute.

Gator seniors Tymrak and Holly King picked up SEC Player of the Year honors when the league office announced the season’s awards Monday afternoon. Tymrak is the first Gator to be named SEC Offensive Player of the Year since the league began naming an Offensive and Defensive honoree in 2005. King is the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and is the third Gator to earn the honor since 2009. Joining the pair on the All-SEC first team is fellow senior Jo Dragotta. Center back Christen Westphal is part of both the All-SEC second and Freshman teams.

Although Florida leads all league teams with nine SEC Tournament titles, only the 2007 and 2010 titles came at the Orange Beach SportsPlex. Eight of the last nine SEC Tournaments have been held in Orange Beach, Ala. The Gators advanced to the tournament final five times in Orange Beach, with Tennessee taking a penalty kick decision after the two teams tied 1-1 20T in the 2003 final and the Gators lost 2-1 to Kentucky in the 2006 final. In the 2011 final, Florida lost 3-2 to Auburn. The Gators hoisted the SEC Tournament trophy in 2007 (4-1 versus Georgia) and 2010 (1-0 versus South Carolina). Florida has advanced to the SEC Tournament final 13 of its 17 SEC Tournament appearances.

In Florida’s last match, the Gators went to the regular-season finale at South Carolina needing a win to ensure the 2012 SEC title would return to Gainesville. After a scoreless opening half, the Gators turned in three goals to claim the title with a 3-0 win. Junior Adriana Leon started the Gator scoring, executing on the “go” end of a give-and-go with Tymrak. Leon’s left-footed goal from seven yards was her fourth of the year. Sophomore Annie Speese turned in her fourth double-goal match of her career and first of the year, scoring in the 73rd and 87th minutes. She placed in the deflection off a Travis cross for her first score and then scored off a ball from an end line run by Tessa Andujar to finish UF’s scoring.

Seniors McKenzie Barney and Dragotta lead the Gators with six goals each. Tymrak tops the Gators’ points chart with 17. Dragotta now owns six career goals – all scored this season and within the span of the last 10 matches. Tymrak’s 91 points place her seventh on Florida’s career chart while Barney is eighth at 72.

Mississippi lost its final three matches of the SEC season all by one goal decisions, including a 3-2 overtime loss to LSU. Juniors Rafaelle Souza and Mandy McCalla lead the league with 13 goals each. Souza tops the SEC with 33 points and McCalla is close behind at 31. Both were named to the 2012 All-SEC second team and Souza shared the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year honor. It was Souza’s goal with just 43 seconds remaining in regulation which advanced Mississippi to Wednesday’s match as the Rebels defeated LSU 1-0 Monday in Orange Beach.

All action at the 2012 SEC Tournament will be available via web stream or on television. The SEC Digital Network will live stream Monday and Wednesday matches and Friday’s semifinal matches will appear on ESPN3. ESPNU will cover the SEC Championship match.

Courtesy of UF Communications