Freshman Madison Alexander waited patiently inside the South Alabama box as midfielders Gabby Seiler and Sarah Troccoli traded passes. Seiler found space on the left flank and served a cross towards the six-yard box. Alexander jumped all over Seiler’s ball, placing it past goalkeeper Justice Stanford to open the scoring in the 34th minute.
The opening goal hallmarked a game where Florida (15-6) dominated possession with its precise passing. UF never looked back after scoring, defeating the Jaguars (14-6-1) by a final score of 3-1 on Friday night at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. UF advances to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with the victory.
The Gators determined the match’s pace of play from the opening whistle. Starting the match without a true striker in the lineup, Florida controlled the ball with its midfield.
UF dominated the stat-line in the first half, scoring two goals on six shots while conceding no shots to South Alabama.
“Our team defending is what’s underrated a little bit,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said. “It’s not just a backline and goalkeeper as far as defending, it’s everybody.”
But it wasn’t until the mid-half substitutions of forwards Alexander and junior Melanie Monteagudo that the Gators were able to convert their chances into goals. Alexander lead all players with two on-target shots and three shots in total, while Monteagudo lead all players in points with three.
Alexander put away her first shot of the game in the 34th minute for her third goal of the season.
10 minutes later Monteagudo made her first impact of the game. The Pembroke Pines native took on two South Alabama defenders on the left wing, beating one with a nutmeg, and curled a shot to the back post 18 yards from goal to double Florida’s lead just before halftime. It was Monteagudo’s first goal of the season.
“It was bound to happen at some point,” Monteagudo said. “I’m just glad it happened now. It was kind of a sigh of relief because I’ve been wanting it so badly.”
The momentum from the two first-half goals carried into the second half, as UF quickly added to its tally.
Monteagudo received the ball on the left wing after Mayra Pelayo switched the play to her. She surged past a South Alabama defender and cut the ball back to junior Sarah Troccoli, who hit it first time past Stanford to make it 3-0 in the 55th minute.
Troccoli’s goal, her fourth of the season, helped the Gators comfortably see out the remainder of the match. The three goal lead also allowed UF to substitute in fresh legs at defense, which were able to thwart many of the Jaguars’ remaining attacks.
“I think for our team there’s a very close proximity from the first person on our roster to the last player on our roster” Burleigh said. “You see that in practice every day, and to see that come to fruition in a game is really rewarding.”
However, the Jaguars were able to find better opportunities in the second half, generating four shots and putting one on target for its lone goal.
The South Alabama goal came just five minutes before full time when UF defender Sara Wilson made an errant back pass towards goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese. Wilson’s pass was stolen by the Jaguars’ Audrey Duren, who beat Marckese to avoid the shutout.
The goal sparked more attacking from South Alabama, but it was too little and too late. The Jaguars’ season ended when full time was called in Gainesville, while Florida will live to fight another game.
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr, and contact him at [email protected].