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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Versatile Gators share offensive, defensive responsibilities

Ashley Harris isn't claiming that the UF soccer team is as good as the Brazilian national team.

It's just that for Harris, the easiest way to describe the Gators' and their versatility is in comparison to one of the world's best squads.

"When you play Brazil, you can't just say, 'hey, we're going to mark one player,' because if you do that someone else is going to score," she said. "The thing with our team is you can't just say, 'we're going to mark Stacy (Bishop), or we're going to mark Ameera (Abdullah) or whoever,' because Shana (Hudson) or Daniela (Sanchez) will have opportunities opened up for them."

Arkansas (8-8-1, 1-6-1 Southeastern Conference) will have to contend with UF's versatility tonight at 8 as the Gators (9-4-2, 5-2 SEC) travel to Fayetteville for a rare Thursday night match.

UF coach Becky Burleigh prefers to call UF a "fluid" team. From top to bottom, Burleigh said, the Gators have the talent to move around and play different positions effectively, making them a harder team to defend and score against.

"We like being able to bring our defenders up on offense and have them be a threat to the opposing team," Burleigh said. "Being able to move people up and down like that makes it tough on both sides."

Harris may fit this playing style best. After spending three years on defense, Burleigh reasoned that the Gators could use Harris' speed on offense and moved the senior to forward.

The experiment paid off. One of UF's premier defenders has become one of its best offensive threats. Harris has scored six goals this season, tying Bishop, a preseason All-SEC forward, for the team lead.

Senior defender Hudson has also helped out on offense this season. She scored her second goal of the year during Sunday's 5-1 rout of Alabama.

The Gators' fluidity also gives them an advantage on the defensive end. Burleigh has emphasized screening, or playing aggressive defense in the passing lanes, to make it more difficult for opposing defenders and midfielders to move the ball up to their forwards.

"Denying the ball to the forwards puts teams at a huge disadvantage," defender Lauren Hyde said. "When they do get shot attempts, they're taking shots from up top instead of in the box, which makes it much harder to score."

UF's screening has stymied opponents all season. The team has forced seven shutouts.

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"I think the defense is always underrated," Hyde said. "When you stop a team from scoring, that takes pressure off the offensive players, and they can be more aggressive."

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