Even though the Gators advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, their postseason run isn’t what defines them. What summed up their season more than anything was the surprise the seniors organized for coach Becky Burleigh before UF’s first game.

The Gators wore a patch on the right sleeve of their uniforms, reading “R&N” in honor of Burleigh’s parents, Ron and Nancy, who passed away in February and July, respectively.

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“It was very unexpected, for sure,” Burleigh said. “It is something my family will never forget.”

Florida played with the patches all season. And when a season of program milestones, exhilarating matches and individual achievements ended against No. 5 South Carolina on Friday, UF captain Gabby Seiler dedicated it all to her coach.

“It was really special because we got to play for something bigger than ourselves,” Seiler said. “Becky’s parents passing away and us being able to be there for her and rise up for her. The season was for her.”

Burleigh became the second Division I women’s soccer coach to reach 400 wins since 1995 and made UF the fifth program with 400 wins in that time frame after defeating Missouri on Oct. 5.

The Gators made their 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance this year, advancing to the quarterfinals for the sixth time in program history and for the first time since 2014.

Along the way, UF picked up impressive wins, including an early-season victory against No. 1 Stanford on Aug. 25.

The match is Stanford’s only loss so far this season, as Florida rallied back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Cardinal on an 82nd-minute winner from junior Lais Araujo.

Game winners were plentiful in 2017 from SEC Freshman of the Year Deanne Rose, who finished the season with five. Her latest winner captured the match for UF against Washington State in double overtime of the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

Rose also led the Gators this season with nine goals and earned a spot on the All-SEC First Team. Seiler and redshirt sophomore Parker Roberts joined Rose on the All-SEC First Team, and redshirt senior Kristen Cardano and junior Rachelle Smith made the All-SEC second team.

Roberts and Smith will return next season after leading the team with more than 2,000 minutes played each in 2017.

Seiler and Cardano, along with redshirt junior Jessie Holmes and senior Cassie Owens, saw their careers at Florida end on Friday. The senior class led UF through its deep tournament run with the initials of Burleigh’s parents on its shoulders.

“This group is really, really special and will always be special to me regardless what the scoreboard says or how far we got,” Burleigh said. “It was a very touching season for me.”

You can follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr, and contact him at mstine@alligator.org.

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