Coming off an impressive victory at then-No. 11 Tennessee on Sunday, the UF soccer team has momentum going into its final game of the regular season.
“I thought in particular Sunday’s win was a really good one,” coach Becky Burleigh said. “I’ve always felt like having tougher games at the end of a season is a real positive.”
And the games only get tougher as the Gators host No. 3 South Carolina at 7 p.m. Thursday for Senior Night at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
“This is a really exciting week because it’s Senior Night, and we start SEC play in the tournament next week,” redshirt sophomore Parker Roberts said. “Everyone wants to support our seniors and get a win.”
Four players will be honored before the kick off: midfielder Gabby Seiler, defender Kristen Cardano, defender Cassie Owens and defender Jessie Holmes.
However, Florida will be without Cardano, who’s out for the season with a torn ACL, and possibly Seiler, who’s second on the team in total points with 18, when the match begins. Seiler suffered a leg injury in the second half against the Volunteers and is questionable to play.
If UF (13-4, 7-2 SEC) is to defeat South Carolina (14-1-1, 8-0-1 SEC) without Seiler and Cardano, UF will need strong contributions from its top bench players, who Burleigh calls “game changers.”
Last week in Cardano’s absence, midfielder Sarah Troccoli and forward Madison Alexander made the most of their opportunities when they were called off the bench against Kentucky on Oct. 19 and earned the start against Tennessee.
In those games, Troccoli and Alexander combined for three goals and one assist, taking part in all four of Florida’s goals.
“I think that something we preach all year is that we have a pretty deep team,” Burleigh said. “And I think when they’ve come into the game and they have an opportunity, they take advantage of it.”
Whether the Gators win or lose to the Gamecocks, they will take a top-three seed into the SEC Tournament, which begins on Oct. 30.
The defending SEC Champions can finish as high as second place if they win Thursday and benefit from a Texas A&M loss. However, if the Aggies win at Mississippi State, they would in turn benefit from a Florida victory or tie, which would launch them to first in the SEC and bring the Gamecocks down to second.
Regardless of where the Gators finish in the SEC standings, Burleigh believes the challenges her team has faced this season will benefit it come tournament time.
“I think this team has had to deal with a lot because we had the extra game the week everyone else in the SEC had one game, when we played FSU, and we had two away games last weekend when everyone else had one,” Burleigh said. “So these things were at the time maybe not ideal, but in the big picture really good for us.”
You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr, and contact him at [email protected].