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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Gators soccer team dominate SEC-leading Tigers

The top of the Southeastern Conference is now muddled.

No. 17 LSU (10-3-3, 6-1-1 SEC) came into Gainesville on Thursday tied for first in the SEC, but the Tigers were dominated by the No. 12 Gators 4-0, and, with just two games left on the year, the conference championship will most likely be decided in the season finale.

UF will host South Carolina, the other conference leader, Oct. 30.

Coming into Thursday's game, the Gators found themselves in a must-win situation.

"How wouldn't it make you focus?" freshman McKenzie Barney said. "It is the ultimate competitive situation."

Barney, who was making just her second start on the season, kept LSU on its toes.

After midfielder Angela Napolitano's low corner kick was deflected into the air by sophomore Sarah Chapman, an LSU player botched a clear attempt. The ball found Barney two yards away from the goal, and the forward headed it in uncontested in the fifth minute.

"Somebody kept the keeper away, which was definitely a bonus for me," Barney said.

Florida added another goal in the 32nd minute when senior Lauren Hyde served a free kick into the penalty box that Chapman was able to head into the lower left corner from 15 yards out. The Gators put the Tigers away early in the second half when freshman Brooke Thigpen wrestled the ball from an LSU defender inside the penalty box and scored from 12 yards out.

"Once we got that third goal, we knew it was all she wrote," UF coach Becky Burleigh said.

In both of the team's practices this week, UF focused on shutting down the LSU attack. The Gators' work was evident as the Tigers only had one good opportunity, a free kick in the eighth minute that UF goalkeeper Katie Fraine stopped with her outstretched arms.

Thursday was Breast Cancer Awareness Night, which hit home for Hyde, who lost her mother to breast cancer, and Burleigh, whose mother is a three-time survivor.

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"One of my really good friends came up to me before the game and said, 'Do this for your mom,'" Hyde said.

But even with the win, the Gators still need to win out, and their next match is Sunday at Arkansas (8-5-4, 2-5-2 SEC).

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