UF notebook: Soccer eyes SEC title
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012 at 5:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 22, 2012 at 5:09 p.m.
The 2012 Southeastern Conference crown will be on the line Thursday when 11th-ranked Florida takes on South Carolina in the regular-season finale for both soccer squads in Columbia.
Coach Becky Burleigh's Gators, who had their nine-match winning streak halted by Alabama in a 1-0 road loss Friday, bounced back with a 4-0 win over homestanding Vanderbilt on Sunday that enabled UF (13-4-1, 10-2), which leads the SEC East, to retain its overall conference lead by two points over SEC West leader and No. 9 Texas A&M (15-3-1, 9-3-1).
While the Gamecocks (6-8-4, 3-6-3) have struggled, they are the defending champs, and all three of their SEC wins have come in their last five matches. In addition, USC is in 10th place in the SEC and needs a win to ensure a spot in this year's 10-team SEC Tournament.
“The South Carolina game is a big game no matter what,” Burleigh said. “It always falls at the end of the year, and it's always been kind of a rivalry game with us for the last four or five years. I know our team is really looking forward to the trip to South Carolina, but it's never easy to win on the road, so we're going to have our work cut out for us.”
Thursday's game, which will be televised by SUN Sports, begins at 6 p.m.
The No. 11 Gators ran their winning streak to 14 straight matches and solidified their SEC lead by taking a pair of road wins over Alabama and Texas A&M this past weekend.
Florida (17-2, 11-0) swept the Tide 3-0 and then rallied from an 0-2 hole to post a thrilling, five-set win on national TV (ESPNU) over the Aggies on Sunday.
But there is little time to celebrate as UF faces 12th-ranked FSU (18-2) in a non-conference match Wednesday in Tallahassee at 6 p.m. that will be carried live by ESPN3.
“This was not initially planned, but what happened was Florida State had an opportunity to move their Miami match to national television early in September, and thus we had to move this match,” coach Mary Wise said. “They are every bit as offensively and defensively talented as they were a year ago, and that team went to the final four. It should be quite the battle.”
UF returns to SEC play when the Gators host Mississippi State (4-16, 0-11) Friday in the O'Connell Center at 7 p.m. in their only weekend action.
Both UF squads travel to Nashville on Friday for the SEC Championships hosted by Vanderbilt.
The Florida men are coming off a second-place finish in 2011 that was their best SEC finish since 2007, while the UF women, who won back-to-back SEC titles in 2009-10, were third.
Neither squad is among the five SEC teams currently ranked, but both have received votes and are coming off top-10 team finishes at the Pre-Nationals in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 13.
Junior Mark Parrish finished first for the UF men and 16th overall with a personal-best time of 23:43.20 that was the second-fastest 8K time in the SEC this season, while senior Florence Ngetich posted a 24th-place finish in the women's 6K event with a personal-best mark of 20:35.3.
“Both the men's and women's team are very excited,” coach Paul Spangler said. “They have a chance to do very well, so they're definitely looking forward to mixing it up with some of the SEC's best.”
With the Nov. 9 season-opener against Fairfield fast approaching, coach Amanda Butler plans on putting her young team through the proverbial blender in the coming week.
“There's a long road ahead of us,” Butler said. “This is going to be a really, really big week of learning. It's really important for us to go forward and every day put in new things and continue to adjust to who is the best five in what situations. We get to end the week with a closed scrimmage, and that will be a great indicator of where we are.”
Butler noted that, outside of senior All-SEC forward Jennifer George and junior point guard and former P. K. Yonge standout Jaterra Bonds, there are still a lot of question marks.
“Jaterra's presence is really important for us and Jennifer's presence is really important for us,” Butler said. “But beyond that, it's pretty much up for grabs.”