Notebook: Gators host NCAA soccer opener
Published: Monday, November 5, 2012 at 8:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 5, 2012 at 8:17 p.m.
It seems one SEC soccer title was not enough for 10th-ranked Florida.
Led by senior and tournament MVP Erika Tymrak, UF claimed its league-leading 10th SEC Tournament title with a 3-0 win over Auburn in Sunday's championship final.
The red-hot Gators (17-4-1, 11-2), who have won 14 of their last 15 matches and earlier won their league-best 12th SEC regular-season crown, clinched an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“The last two games we started playing some of our best soccer, and that's what we want to be doing this time of year,” said coach Becky Burleigh, who was honored as SEC Coach of the Year for the fifth time.
“I think our team has really been focused on making a statement about that. Last year, we felt like we had a really good team but didn't get the results that we wanted in the SEC in particular. This year, winning the SEC was a really big goal of ours, but they weren't satisfied with that. They wanted to make a statement going into the tournament, and I think they did that.”
The 64-team NCAA Tournament field was announced Monday afternoon, and UF is a No. 2 seed in its regional. The Gators will host Florida Gulf Coast (14-3-3) in a first-round match Friday at 3 p.m. at Pressly Stadium.
UF's 38th season of varsity competition begins Friday when coach Amanda Butler's Gators host Fairfield in the O'Connell Center at 4 p.m.
The early start is due to Gator Growl being later that evening. Anyone with a Gator Growl ticket will be admitted free to Friday's season-opener.
“It's a special opportunity to be able to kick off Homecoming weekend and be able to play Friday with all of the great things that will be going on,” Butler said. “Hopefully we'll have a great crowd.”
It will be a busy weekend for the Gators, who will take on Georgia State on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the first half of a doubleheader with the UF men.
“We still need to make some decisions about who needs to be playing what roles, but our kids are really excited,” Butler said. “When we ended practice Friday, the kids were yelling 'Game week, game week,' so their minds are where they need to be.”
Despite suffering their first SEC loss of the year Sunday to defending conference champ Tennessee in a five-set thriller, the 13th-ranked Gators still have a three-game lead in the loss column on the Vols, Kentucky and Texas A&M with six games remaining.
Next up, UF (19-4, 13-1) hits the road for a pair of SEC matches against Missouri (16-8, 8-6) Friday and Ole Miss (10-13, 4-10) Sunday.
“We're going to take the Tennessee match and use it for preparation of going to Missouri and Ole Miss,” coach Mary Wise said. “It will be a great challenge for us.”
Freshman Ziva Recek was named the SEC Freshman of the Week. She turned in a career-high 26 kills and 20 digs against Tennessee, becoming the first Gator to register 20-plus kills and digs since Kisya Killingsworth had 23 kills and 20 digs on Sept. 17, 2006.
She also had a double-double (12 kills, 11 digs) in Friday's 3-0 sweep of Georgia.
UF capped a stellar fall season under first-year coach Emily Bastel by claiming both the team and individual titles at the Betsy Rawls Invitational in Austin, Texas, last week.
The win was the second in four fall outings for the second-ranked Gators, and sophomore Camilla Hedberg made it a clean sweep by claiming medalist honors with a sudden-death playoff win over Alabama's Jennifer Kirby.
A UF golfer captured medalist honors in all four fall events, with senior Isabelle Lendl and Hedberg each winning a pair of titles.
“We did have a fantastic fall,” Bastel said. “The two wins is the highlight of the fall for the team, but the four individual wins is really incredible. It's just great for the girls to see their hard work pay off.”
Both the UF men and women will travel to Tallahassee on Friday for the NCAA South Regional, where the top two teams on each side will be rewarded with automatic berths to this year's NCAA Championships Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky.
While either or both squads also could advance with at-large berths, first-year coach Paul Spangler does not want to leave anything to chance.
“Certainly our goal is to be top-two on both sides,” said Spangler. “We don't want to be sitting at home over the weekend with a third-place finish and rely on a committee to make that decision.”
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