The No. 17 Florida Gators will begin their defense of the SEC Tournament Title against a team that has been their kryptonite for the past two seasons, the Auburn Tigers.
Even though the Florida Gators arrive to Orange Beach, Alabama, as the No. 3 SEC seed (7-3), they are still the team to beat in the conference. The Gators hope to win their third SEC-Tournament title in a row. In 2015 and 2016, they beat both the Texas A&M Aggies and the Arkansas Razorbacks by two goals to one in the previous two SEC finals respectively. Kick-off will be at 3:30 p.m. If the Gators win, they will face the winner from the the Missouri-Texas A&M game.
An Old Rival
Now the Gators will be once again in front of the team that feels the most confident against them. The Tigers have beaten the Gators four times out of their last five meetings; the only victory for Florida was during the 2015 SEC Tournament, which was a 2-0 victory. The next three games were very tough for the Gators. In 2016 and 2017, Auburn was able to keep Florida away from the net (3-0 and 1-0 respectively). But the loss that hurt the most for the Gators was in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, in which they lost three goals to one at home.
Coming to last year’s NCAA game against Auburn, Florida was one of the most solid attacking teams in the nation; they scored 56 goals overall (44 goals during the regular season). The Gators did not have the same attacking productivity this season in comparison to last season. The retirements of players like Savannah Jordan and Meggie Dougherty-Howard was a big factor.
The Tigers scored 24 goals and received 21 goals during the regular season. Kristen Dodson, who has scored five goals in five games against Florida, was Auburn’s top regular-season scorer (8)
The Excellence of The SEC Conference
Head Coach Becky Burleigh did a fantastic job at what was a transition season for the team. Even though the Gators did not look as dominant on offense as they were last season, they maintained their game plan intact (31 goals scored). This is one of the most crucial things to do in this sport because it allows teams to provide a better adaptation for new players.
Newcomers like Deanne Rose and Lais Araujo adapted very well to the Gator possession-oriented system. Rose scored eight goals and made three assists. Of course keeping core players like Gabby Seiler, Kristen Cardano, Mayra Pelayo, Briana Solis and Parker Roberts (who came back to the team after one season of absence due to her US Under-20 National commitment) helped the Gators continue implementing their style of game.
The most important tactical implementations for the Gators during this season were taking advantage of Seiler’s positional versatility, Pelayo’s freedom to being the main decision maker in the last third and Roberts’s polyvalent role in the midfield.
Seiler helped the team by playing at different positions and roles during the whole season: center defender, fullback, center midfielder and winger; even though she missed the last four regular-season games due to an injury, Cardano was the main build-up pillar for the team; after Jordan’s departure, Pelayo stepped up as the go-to main creator on offense for the Gators thanks to her dribbling ability and sense of space; Solis and Roberts were a fantastic midfielder duo that pulled the strings both on offense and defense in the second line.
Three of those aforementioned players were selected to be on the 2017 All-SEC teams. Seiler, Rose and Roberts on the first team; Cardano alongside Rachelle Smith on the second team.