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Sunday, June 16, 2024

The No. 5 Gators kicked off the first game of their vigorous five-game road trip with a thrilling overtime victory, beating FSU 2-1.

“It was an amazing experience,” captain McKenzie Barney said. “We got our focus back together in the huddle before overtime started and we said ‘Let’s just take a deep breath, refocus, and go out there and do this.’ So after about five or six passes,  I got a beautiful cross and finished.”

This season, the Gators have been much more comfortable late in games, outscoring opponents 8-2 in the second half. Barney, the Gators’ leading goal-scorer this season, has scored four of her five goals in the second half or overtime.

Barney scored the game-winning goal Friday just 15 seconds into overtime, earning her a second Southeastern Conference Offensive Soccer Player of the Week award.

Florida now prepares for its most challenging test, traveling to No. 17 Duke before taking on No. 1 North Carolina, the two-time defending national champions.

“It’s the perfect time right now (to play these teams),” Barney said. “We’re ready. We’ve had some tough opponents up to this point, but it’s nothing like what we are going to see this weekend. So hopefully we are peaking in the right spot and we come into this weekend fully prepared.

“My personal goal for the weekend is to come out with two wins and stay undefeated.”

Remaining focused has been a motto for the undefeated Gators this season, and coach Becky Burleigh has preached for her team to stay relentless during the tough road trip.

“For both games, our focus is on continuing to do what we did well, along with putting the ball in the back of the net,” Barney said.

“We need to capitalize on our opportunities and make sure we are finishing our chances. That’s been a big thing for us this season. We just want to play as a team and do whatever the coaches tell us to do.”

And even though UF has yet to lose, the team’s room for improvement reads like a laundry list.

“We just want to continue to get our rhythm in terms of our offense because I think we play very much in a rhythm,” Burleigh said. “When we play one and two touch we are a much better team than when we hold onto the ball a lot.”

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