SEC tourney title in Florida's sights


Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.

Facts

At a glance

  • What: SEC Tournament
  • Where: Orange Beach, Ala.
  • UF history: Florida has won seven SEC Tournament titles (1996-'01, '04) and has advanced to the final match in nine of the program's 11 appearances. UF lost in the opening round to Auburn in 1995 and 2005.

  • The Gators will be looking to win their eighth SEC Tournament title in the last 10 years this weekend in Orange Beach, Ala. But for regular-season champion and top-seeded Florida, there will be a lot more at stake.
    Like the chance to secure a top-16 national seed and home-field advantage for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
    The Gators (11-4-4, 7-1-3 SEC) hope to take the first step toward those goals tonight when they face No. 8-seed Georgia (10-8, 5-6) at the Orange Beach Soccer Complex.
    "This is going to be very important for (NCAA) seeding," senior Kelli Eisenbrown said. "Everyone wants to be seeded high to get home-field advantage. But we're not looking that far ahead. We've got to take care of Georgia first."
    The Gators are ranked 16th nationally and are the SEC regular-season champions and the tournament's top seed. Still, Florida needs to strengthen its resume if it hopes to be awarded the right to host NCAA action.
    The biggest factor working against Florida is Florida State. The Seminoles, which beat the Gators 1-0 on Sept. 8 in Tallahassee, are ranked sixth nationally and have all but secured a host bid. The NCAA typically awards host sites regionally.
    The journey starts today, when Florida faces a Georgia team that gave the Gators fits on Sept. 29 in Gainesville. Florida needed a goal on Stacy Bishop's 25-yard free kick in overtime to defeat Georgia, 2-1.
    Should the Gators win, they would face the winner of today's game between No. 5-seed South Carolina and No. 4 Vanderbilt on Friday. Florida tied South Carolina 1-1 on Oct. 27 and narrowly defeated Vandy, 1-0, on Oct. 6.
    Then there's a potential SEC Tournament final against third-seeded Tennessee, the only team to defeat the Gators in conference play this season.
    "There's a lot of parity in the conference this year," coach Becky Burleigh said. "For us, I think all those teams are going to be difficult for us to get past."
    Florida had appeared in the championship game of each SEC Tournament from 1996-2004 before losing in the first round, 2-1, to Auburn last season.
    Sophomore Ameera Abdullah believes the Gators still have a lot to prove.
    "It's pretty important," Abdullah said. "We beat the majority of these teams and we want to beat them again. It would liven us up for the NCAA Tournament as well.
    "We're ranked high and our hopes are high."
    n NOTE: Florida had a league-high three players named to the All-SEC first on Tuesday. Abdullah, junior forward/midfielder Stacy Bishop and freshman defender Lauren Hyde all made the 11-member All-SEC first team. Abdullah leads the Gators with eight goals this season. Bishop leads the Gators in points (20), assists (six) and game-winning goals (four). Hyde leads UF in minutes (1,717) and was also named to the All-SEC freshman team.
    What: SEC soccer tournament Where: Orange Beach, Ala. UF history: Florid has won seven SEC Tournament titles (1996-'01, '04) and has advanced to the final match in nine of the program's 11 appearances. UF lost in the opening round to Auburn in 1995 and 2005.

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