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Friday, January 27, 2023

The UF soccer team entered the season with stars in its eyes and hopes of a national championship in its sights.

Those national title hopes were in jeopardy when the Gators (11-4-2, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) opened SEC play with losses to Georgia and Tennessee. UF was shutout in both contests, marking the fifth time the Gators had been blanked in their first nine games.

At that point, UF was reeling, but those losses served as the turning point in the season.

Associate head coach Victor Campbell spurred a shift in the team's mindset.

Following those two SEC losses Campbell told the Gators they were no longer the hunted in the conference. They were now the hunters.

"We definitely were the hunted at first and everybody wanted to beat us," goalkeeper Katie Fraine said. "Teams are going to come out and play hard against us no matter what…But in our minds we definitely became the hunters instead of the hunted."

The change in mentality has certainly served the Gators well. They have yet to lose a match since Campbell made his declaration. UF has won seven consecutive games, boasting six shutout victories and three matches in which they have scored five goals.

"We just realized it's not going to be handed to us," Fraine said. "We have to go out and play hard. We have to start games and not just show up at halftime. I think it was a good thing."

The winning streak renewed UF's national title hopes. The Gators are once again speaking openly about making a run in the NCAA Tournament, although in a guarded fashion.

"It's definitely on our minds," defender Daniela Sanchez said. "It's not only on us. We've got to depend on Tennessee and Georgia, but we've got to take care of our business. We'll start from there and go on to the SEC Tournament and then the NCAA. We've got to take it one step at a time."

GATORS GET FESTIVE: Halloween came a day early for the soccer team.

The players dropped their traditional orange and blue Tuesday to practice in costumes.

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It is an annual tradition for the team, with the only requirement being that the costume must be able to withstand the rigors of practice.

There were several interesting choices, as coach Becky Burleigh who wore cowgirl outfit. Defenders Shelley Lyle and Tricia Townsend were a Greek goddess and an Oscar Meyer hot dog, respectively.

Forward Megan Kerns drew the most praise as she dressed up as "Oscar the Grouch," from "Sesame Street."

"It lightens the mood a little," Burleigh said. "It's just fun and the players really get into it. We have a good time with it."

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