For the first time since 2003, the Florida soccer team is advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 2 seeded Gators defeated No. 3 seeded Texas Tech with a 3-2 win at Dizney Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Senior midfielder Annie Speese provided the go-ahead goal in the 81st minute to break the tie as they shot outside the box dipped into the top-right corner of the net.
The Gators held a 2-0 advantage early in the contest. In the 14th minute, senior midfielder Havana Solaun nailed a wonder goal with a right-footed strike from 20 yards out to draw first blood. Then in the 21st minute, sophomore forward Savannah Jordan guided a free kick from Speese to put Florida up 2-0 for the third time in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
The Red Raiders would not go away quietly however as Texas Tech scored two unanswered goals to tie up the game. Just when it seemed like Tech had all of the momentum on their side, the Gators pulled through with the game-winning goal.
“It was sort of like a microcosm of our season,” said Florida head coach Becky Burleigh. “There were times when we were playing great soccer and then there were some times where it really just came down to effort and how much we wanted it and we had to really dig deep. I give credit to Texas Tech for giving us everything we could handle.”
Speese has been a bright spot for the Gators as of late. The senior has scored three goals and tallied two assists during the NCAA Tournament. She had only three goals in the entire regular season.
“She’s just got a great soccer brain, she’s going to be a great coach,” Burleigh said when asked about Speese. “She understands momentum, she understands settling the ball and pace and how she can impact a game.”
For the Gators, it’s not just an opportunity to make some history – the Gators have not won a game in the Elite Eight since 2001. It’s simply another chance for a Florida squad with nine senior members to play together again.
“They like to work for each other and play hard for each other,” said Burleigh. “You just want to see that get rewarded because you can feel how much they love one another and want this to keep going.”
The road continues for the Gators (17-4-1) as they will travel to take on Stanford (20-1-2). Florida lost to the Cardinal earlier this year, losing 1-0 on an overtime penalty kick.
The Elite Eight contest between Florida and Stanford will take place on Friday at Palo Alto at 10:00 p.m.
To listen to audio from the story, click below: