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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Gators get No. 3 seed in NCAA Soccer Tourney

If the Florida soccer team reaches the second round of the NCAA Tournament this weekend, it might be the favorite on paper alone.

If UF defeats Illinois State and Ohio State wins against Oregon State in the first round Friday, the Gators will play the Buckeyes on OSU's home field Nov. 15.

When the tournament seeding was announced Monday night, the Gators received a No. 3 seed. Despite being the highest ranked team in its opening weekend regional, Florida will travel to Ohio State, another team in the regional.

The Buckeyes are unseeded, as the NCAA only ranks the top four teams in each bracket.

But the Gators insist circumstances beyond their control, like the location of their matches this weekend, will not affect them.

"If we got to play in Buckeye stadium and show the Buckeyes what it's all about, then that's fine with us," goalkeeper Katie Fraine said. "Our school has done it before, and we can do it again."

The team that hosts the regional is based on proximity to the other teams in that regional as opposed to seeding.

Coach Becky Burleigh said she obviously would have preferred if the Gators could play in Gainesville this weekend. Beyond that, she has no vested interest in how the bracket gets drawn up.

"To me, it doesn't really matter who we play, where we play, when we play - I'm just ready to play," Burleigh said.

With only four days to prepare for Illinois State, Burleigh said the team will try to get film so it can study the Redbirds, who received an automatic bid into the tournament when they won the Missouri Valley Conference Championship on Sunday.

The road trip to Columbus, Ohio, could be troubling for the Gators, as the team struggled earlier this season away from Gainesville. After winning the season-opener at Miami on Aug. 21, UF did not win a road game until Oct. 18 at Georgia. After the victory in Athens, Florida won its next two away games, and the Gators claim their traveling woes are behind them.

"We got all our kinks out on the road and we figured it out, so we should be set," freshman Holly King said.

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King is one of 10 UF freshmen, and the team's upperclassmen are trying to prepare the young players for their first NCAA Tournament. Fraine said the key to success is having tunnel vision, not worrying about your opponent's style of play.

The young players also need to be ready for any elements that may come with a mid-November game in Ohio.

"We're going to play in rain, sleet or snow just like the postman," Fraine said.

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