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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Avant looks for redemption in SEC Tournament

For Jazmyne Avant, the Southeastern Conference Tournament isn't just a way to get an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. It's also a way to get redemption for poor performances in previous matches.

The freshman defender was thrown right into the college-soccer world from day one, starting every game this season - the only freshman on the Gators to do so.

She helped silence any questions about No. 7 UF's inexperienced defense entering the season with her strong play, but there are still games she wishes she could play again.

Today, the All-Freshmen Team member will get her second chance at one of those games when UF (16-2-1, 11-0 SEC) takes on Alabama (9-8-2, 4-6-1) in the opening match of the SEC Tournament.

"I didn't have one of my best games against Alabama, so I feel I have something to prove," Avant said. "That goes for a lot of people, maybe not against Alabama, but we have other reasons to play hard other than just winning."

The Gators won the first meeting 6-1, but they need to forget about that and the other 10 wins in conference play because there are 11 other teams waiting for their chance for payback.

With a 23-game winning streak, including going undefeated this season, against conference opponents, they can expect teams to be gunning for them a little harder to knock the Gators off.

This has them feeling a little paranoid.

"We feel like every one is out to get us, and a lot of teams have something against us that they didn't have before," Avant said.

Other teams in the SEC need the automatic bid more so than UF. The Gators' resume is already good enough to qualify them for the NCAA Tournament. They are one of the few teams in the SEC able to say that.

Having a possible berth into the NCAA Tournament up for grabs should lift the energy levels of the rest of the conference.

"Every team from here on out is going to bring it because they know their NCAA is on the line, and this may be their last game," first-team, All-SEC midfielder Ashlee Elliott said. Seniors Ameera Abdullah and Megan Kerns were the other two Gators on the first team with junior Lauren Hyde getting second-team honors.

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UF coach and SEC Coach of the Year Becky Burleigh has emphasized to her team the importance of not taking a team lightly, coming in overconfident and preparing for one team at a time.

A major concern is the tactical changes the Crimson Tide will make to produce a better result against the Gators.

Burleigh said the changes made by an opposing team are the hard part about playing a team for the second time.

While Burleigh has her worries about playing a team twice, Avant can't wait to get a second go at some in-conference rivals.

Being from Coppell, Texas, this season has been her first experience with the rivalries in the SEC.

"As a freshman, I didn't really feel like I had anything to play for because I never had any problems with any of the teams or rivalries," Avant said. "Now that I have played teams, my mentality has changed."

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