The Round 0f 16 in the NCAA Tournament seems to be Florida’s downfall in soccer in recent history. Last season, the Gators lost to Duke at this stage of the postseason and unfortunately on Sunday, they failed to make it to the quarterfinals again. This time they lost to a familiar foe, SEC rival Auburn, 3-1.
On a cool afternoon, Florida was set to host as the top seed in their region; Auburn was ranked fourth. It was a perfect day for soccer as the two SEC teams battled to keep their seasons alive. Earlier in the regular season, Auburn was the only team to beat Florida in Gainesville back in September. That match was one of the toughest for the Gators during their season as they struggled with defensive miscues and gave up three goals to lose 3-0. Florida really made a turning point after that match in their season only losing one of their last 13 matches, including defeating Arkansas in the SEC Tournament to win their second title in a row.
In Florida’s game on Friday night, they played an exciting match against Wisconsin that ended with a golden goal for Brooke Sharp to send the Gators back to the Round of 16. At some point during that match, Florida had the lead, was tied, was losing and then tied again all before the end of regulation. Meggie Dougherty Howard contributed in each of the three goals Florida scored in that match showing the offensive threat that she is. The win over the Badgers gave the Gators another shot at Auburn and a chance to redeem themselves against the Tigers.
These seniors. They will hold a special place in my heart. Not one player wanted to leave the field tonight. ❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/IVnjNeP37S
— Becky Burleigh (@UFGatorSoccer) November 20, 2016
In the first half of the match, both teams defended well. Auburn’s lone shot of the half resulted in a score in the 26th minute. Florida’s Julia Lester was knocked over as she kicked the ball away from Kristen Dodson, but it went right to Brooke Ramsier who took one touch and kicked it past Kaylan Marckese for the goal. It was a very physical match that had a total of 31 fouls on both teams combined.
The next half of play continued to be physical and emotions were high as the Gators found themselves with their backs against the wall. Head coach Becky Burleigh remained optimistic, believing her team would be able to come back. However, in the 62nd minute Dodson had a scoring opportunity with only one defender to beat. Rachelle Smith tripped Dodson up in the box resulting in a red card for Smith and a penalty kick for Auburn. Their second goal was scored by Bri Folds. The red card left the Gators down a player and down two goals.
Florida continued to fight, putting more pressure on Auburn’s defense. The strategy for the Gators was to get as offensive as possible which included the starting centerback Gabby Seiler playing the ball deeper into Auburn territory. And in a situation where Florida could have really melted down, just 12 seconds after the penalty kick, they were able to strike back with a goal from Brooke Sharp and assists from Sarah Troccoli and Dougherty Howard. With not enough time and not enough players on the field, Florida faltered when they let Dodson get the ball just over midfield. Marckese was playing high in the box, away from the net allowing Dodson to shoot and score right over the goalkeeper’s head to give the Tigers a two-score lead with just five minutes left to play.
After the disappointing loss, Florida players embraced each other knowing their promising season had come to a close. Burleigh said that she was proud of how her team fought hard and left everything out on the field.
The match was also the last one for eight Gator seniors; Erika Nelson, Pamela Begic, Betsy Middleton, Liz Slattery, Valerie Tysinger, Brooke Sharp, Meggie Dougherty Howard and Savannah Jordan. Burleigh expressed her feelings about the senior class that she believes will have a lasting impact on the program.
Jordan in particular will be a huge loss to the soccer program. In her four years as a Gator, she won many accolades and became the second all-time leading scorer in Florida history with 81 goals, second only to Abby Wambach. After the match, Jordan reflected on how much the program and the team has meant to her over the last four years.
Auburn will move on to the quarterfinals for the first time in their program’s history next week. Their opponent will be USC who defeated Utah 1-0.