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Monday, February 26, 2024

UF takes home fourth-consecutive SEC soccer title

The Southeastern Conference still revolves around Gainesville.

With six wins in its last seven matches, No. 10 Florida (14-4-2, 8-1-2 SEC) emerged from the middle of the pack to win its fourth-straight regular season SEC Championship on Friday. Top-seeded UF faces eighth-seeded Tennessee in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday.

The team's last win of the regular season came against No. 13 South Carolina (15-3-1, 7-3-1 SEC), which is experiencing one of its best seasons in school history, including a 12-0 start.

"Our assistant coach, Vic Campbell, said it best when he said, 'There are a lot of teams that are in this position every year, but Florida is the constant,'" coach Becky Burleigh said.

Unlike last season, when the Gators were unbeaten in conference play, UF was in a must-win situation, as South Carolina and LSU entered Friday just one point behind Florida.

"This is what you come to Florida for," Burleigh said to her team before the game. "This is what you have all those hard Tuesdays for. This is what you have a hard summer B for. All the stuff you work for comes to one night when you have a chance to put a ring on your finger."

South Carolina pressured Florida early in the game, but two McKenzie Barney first-half goals wrecked the Gamecocks' confidence.

Barney's first goal came in the 20th minute after she rebounded an Erika Tymrak shot off the high crossbar. South Carolina goalkeeper Mollie Patton was out of position as she had tried to stop Tymrak's shot, and Barney scored effortlessly from four yards out.

"It came right to me," Barney said. "If I wouldn't have scored that, I don't know what I would've done."

Tymrak also assisted on Barney's second goal after she stole the ball from a South Carolina player in the Gamecocks' defensive third and brought the ball inside the penalty box.

Tymrak crossed the ball to Barney, who shook a defender with some sidesteps and put the ball in the bottom right corner of the net.

The Gators added a third goal in the 88th minute when midfielder Holly King headed a Lauren Hyde free kick into the goal.

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But with the way UF's defense has played lately, the Gators only needed Barney's first goal to win the game as the team recorded its third-straight shutout.

The Gators' backline mirrored the Gamecocks for the whole match, and South Carolina's only good opportunities came in the first half when Hyde and defender Kat Williamson committed fouls in their own defensive third.

"We knew they weren't going to score in the run of play, but their set pieces were a big factor for them on scoring (chances) in the first half, so we knew we had to keep

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