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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

They don't care about goals. They hardly ever think about assists.

They are the names hidden in the stat sheet - the players who have left headlines behind.

They are Gators defense, five of the UF soccer team's most unheralded and most important players.

The Gators have given up a mere four goals in six regular season games, helping lead the Gators to a 4-2 record early on.

Goalkeeper Katie Fraine is at the heart of the backline. Labeling herself the team's vocal leader, the redshirt freshman sums it up simply.

"You know what they say," Fraine said. "Offense may win games, but defense wins championships."

The adage was clear in 1998, when the Gators gave up only 17 goals in 27 total games en route to winning the program's first and only national title.

So how does this year's defense stack up?

According to Fraine, just call them the "Wall of Florida."

"We have a lot of big girls on our defensive line, and they're all ready to hit people and throw them down," she said. "Even if it's not in the front page of the media, it doesn't matter. That's not what defense is all about. It's about winning games."

Fraine said the defense is bound by strong friendships, a unique and vital factor in this case.

"With guys, a lot of times it doesn't even matter if they know each other," Fraine said. "When girls trust each other, they play better. Girls are a lot more emotional. As much as we don't want to admit it, if I'm having a fight with one of my defenders and I scream at them during the game, they're going to take it personally and freak out."

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This sense of camaraderie can be seen at the beginning of every game. Huddling at one end of the field, the members of the defense gather and discuss their goals. When the spirited conversation ends, the girls shout "big and strong," a rallying cry that has become a symbol of their unity.

Credited with the creation of these motivational words, senior Shana Hudson is the defense's elder leader.

"Yeah, I'll beat the crap out of people," Hudson said.

The senior pointed out that playing defense does have its benefits.

"When I'm having a bad day it definitely helps," she said. "It's always nice to go in there and knock some people down."

Perhaps the most notorious bruiser of all is sophomore Lauren Hyde. In only her second season, Hyde has already developed a reputation.

"I am glad she is on my team," Hudson said. "That's all I have to say. She is one of the toughest girls I have ever played with. She will hurt someone."

Liz Ruberry enters her third season at center back, where she has started every game. Ruberry appears calm and reserved off the field, but the junior from Oak Forest, Ill., rejects the idea.

"I don't think you know me very well," she said. "I'm pretty wild and loud, on and off the field. I'm the best dancer on the team, so I get the team hyped up."

The fifth spot belongs to Melanie Booth, who is currently competing for Canada in the World Cup. Freshman Nicky Kit and sophomore Tricia Townsend are splitting time.

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