By Alejandro López
Melanie Monteagudo watched as the ball curled off her right foot. Goalless through 17 games, the Florida Gators’ leading scorer from last season decided to follow her teammates’ advice — shoot your shot.
She did. And she found the side netting in highlight-reel fashion Friday at Dizney Stadium.
Propelled by Monteagudo’s three-point effort, Florida’s soccer team hardly missed leading scorer Deanne Rose, defeating South Alabama 3-1 in the first round of the NCAA Division I Championship.
“We need to rely on our depth, especially with the way we play,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said. “When we put them in situations and they’re able to come through … it’s a confidence-builder for our whole team.”
Florida (15-6) dominated possession from the opening kick-off. With South Alabama congesting the middle of the pitch, fullbacks Sammie Betters and Julia Lester were free to roam up the flanks, firing multiple crosses into the South Alabama box.
Playing a high line, the Gator defense swarmed to the ball when dispossessed. Center back Rachelle Smith snuffed out a pair of counterattacks in the half, helping Florida hold the Jaguars’ attack shotless in the half.
The score remained tied until 33:54 of the first half, when midfielder Sarah Troccoli’s through pass split the back line and found Gabby Seiler in the box. Seiler then booted a low cross across the face of the net, where forward Madison Alexander was open to tap-in from six yards out.
Monteagudo would double the score 10 minutes later. Taking a pass in the attacking third, the forward deked one defender to the turf before cutting inside another. After bulling her way through the pair again, Monteagudo curled a shot from the edge of the 18-yard line into the top-right corner of goalkeeper Justice Stanford’s net.
“I knew it was coming. It was bound to happen at some point,” she said of her first goal of the season. “It was kind of like a sigh of relief because I’ve been wanting it so badly.”
Down by two to start the second half, South Alabama upped the pressure. The Gators, however, struck again. In another burst of skill, Monteagudo spun away from her mark and knocked the ball on to Troccoli, who one-timed a shot into the bottom-right corner. The goal was her fourth in the last six matches.
With just over five minutes left, South Alabama (14-5-1) spoiled goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese’s shutout. Florida defender Sara Wilson mishit a backpass to Marckese, springing Audrey Duren for a one-on-one finish.
Florida advances to play the South Florida-Florida Gulf Coast winner next Friday. The USF-FGCU match is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. in Tampa.
Rose is playing with the Canadian National Team on Sunday in San Jose. She is due back on the UF roster next week.