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Friday, September 29, 2023

After taking care of business in their first five matches of the year, the No. 7 Gators embark on their toughest match of the young season as they head to Tallahassee to face No. 5  Florida State on Friday.

The Gators are coming off their biggest blowout of the season after defeating Jacksonville 6-0 last Friday.

Florida now starts a strenuous five-game road trip.

“This team that we have this year I’ve really been enjoying,” coach Becky Burleigh said. “We tried to push them to their physical limits and mentally challenge them.”

After coming off a less-than-stellar performance against San Diego State on Aug. 29, Florida bounced back, playing with much better drive and consistency.

Six different UF players put the ball in the net.

“One of the themes for this team is we just want to be relentless against our opponents,” Burleigh said. “That’s one of the things we emphasized in practice and the games, and so far the team has really responded.”

The Gators have relied on their defensive play through their first five games.

They have posted shutouts in four  matches with a brand-new center back, former attacker Ashlee Elliott.

“As a player, I’ve always been my hardest judge,” Elliott said. “As a fifth-year (player), I feel like sometimes I have to take it upon myself to figure out a situation by myself knowing that the coaches trust me.”

Going into what will be her hardest match of the year thus far, Elliott knows she has to be alert at all times.

“You can’t screw up,” she said. “You always have to be on your toes because there’s no one behind you.

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“You (think you) have more time than you really do, so you have to be a good judge of that.”

The transition from a different position for Elliott has been a rough road, but she continues to make improvements from game to game.

“I like center back,” Elliott said. “Its just a tough transition at this point just because I have so much pressure on myself, which I put on myself because I came back (for a fifth season after suffering a torn ACL in 2009).

“It’s all about paying attention to detail and knowing my role as center back.”

The Gators have shown faith in Elliott’s ability to grow as a defender, putting her at a focal part of the back line.

“That’s a really important position for us,” Burleigh said. “It takes a lot of leadership and motivation and Ashlee has done a tremendous job.

“The thing I’m most impressed with is the ability to come back and be efficient and lead the team.”

After defeating all of their in-state opponents so far this season, Elliott and the Gators are ready to face the challenge that awaits in garnet and gold. They hope to attack the Seminoles with a “relentless” attitude this week.

“In the back line, we just need to trust each other and feed off each other and learn that playing with each other we will get better,” Elliott said.

“Hopefully by the time we play FSU we can be fully dominant in the back and in the front.”

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