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Saturday, February 24, 2024

As you enter the UF Soccer Practice field, you can't help but notice the large yellow sign on the far side of the complex displaying the message "No Whining, Just Winning" in bold red letters.

The phrase has become the mantra of the Gators soccer team (5-4-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) as it endures its worst stretch since 2002 - the last time UF missed the NCAA Tournament.

Despite their mediocre record, the Gators feel they?ve outplayed every opponent this season except Illinois - one of only two teams to outshoot the Gators thus far. As UF heads to Mississippi to face the Rebels tonight at 8 and Mississippi State on Sunday at 1 p.m., the Gators? biggest challenge will be maintaining a high level of confidence despite the ball not bouncing in their favor.

Having a team with eight seniors is vital in that respect.

BIt?s frustrating … especially for the younger players,C senior Daniela Sanchez said. BBut our coaches have reminded us that we need to stick together. People have started to doubt us, and we?ve fallen in the rankings, and if we start to doubt ourselves, we?ll end up last.

BOur coaches and our seniors have done a good job of not only staying with our system, but keeping our heads up and our attitudes up.C

The Gators are battling the perception that they?re incapable of putting the ball in the net, and until Tuesday at a team meeting, UF fell victim to trying to disprove that notion. As a result, some players tried to force the issue a bit too much instead of playing within the system.

BOur coaches told us that we just need to relax,C Sanchez said. BWe weren?t totally focused on playing right. We were so focused on scoring that we didn?t realize that we were playing really good soccer, and obviously when you?re shooting over 10 shots a game, you?re playing well.C

That doesn?t mean the Gators are no longer placing an emphasis on scoring. UF coach Becky Burleigh said scoring does require a certain amount of emphasis, but they?re no longer placing undue pressure on themselves.

BWe have to have focus to get the ball in the net,C Burleigh said. BIt?s definitely the big issue - there?s no way around it. But we also need to focus on the fact that we?re playing good soccer and continue to do that.C

Praying for a sunny day may be more beneficial to UF at this point.

The Gators have been forced to play in the rain during four home games this season and had last Friday?s game against Vanderbilt postponed until Nov. 4 because of poor weather.

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The weather has hurt a team that depends heavily on speed and passing.

BYou have to win in any condition, but it?s very detrimental to our style of play to have to play in standing water,C Burleigh said. BBut you have to find ways beyond that. Sometimes you have to deal with the elements. … For some reason, we?ve had to deal with them more than anybody.C

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