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Friday, September 29, 2023

Fresh off two shutouts to start Southeastern Conference play, the road-weary No. 6 Gators returned home this weekend with one thing in mind: capitalizing on scoring opportunities.

The focus paid off, as Florida (10-1-1, 4-0 SEC) netted more goals against Mississippi State and Ole Miss than in the previous five matches combined.

“We were relentless,” midfielder Tahnai Annis said. “We got what we needed to start the SEC.”

Last season, the Gators lost to the Rebels and tied the Bulldogs on the road in what coach Becky Burleigh referred to as “the trip to the ’Sip.” This weekend, Florida put up a plethora of goals, outscoring their opponents 10-1, a season high for total goals in a weekend.

Florida’s victory over Ole Miss was the first time since 2004 the match between the two was decided by more than one goal.

“Friday was a great night for goal production,” Burleigh said. “It was a great way to start the weekend. Sunday, we were able to keep the ball a lot, which meant they had to chase (Florida) and paid off for us late in the game.”

With less than 30 seconds left in the Gators’ win against the Rebels, forward McKenzie Barney put a ball in the back of the net, keeping her streak of consecutive home games with a goal alive at nine.

Two days before, Barney had snapped the school record of seven matches, held by Abby Wambach and Sarah Yohe.

But while Barney has had a brilliant 2010 campaign, Annis has been the Gators’ unsung hero.

She has played just 15 fewer minutes than Barney this season, and while Barney leads the team in points (21) and goals (nine), Annis is second on the team in both categories with 19 points and seven goals.

Annis already eclipsed her goals, assists and points totals from last season. This year, she leads the team in shots taken and shots on goal, and she is tied for second in assists with five.

Annis and the Gators now head off on the road again to play Alabama on Friday and Auburn on Sunday. 

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After four well-played SEC matches, the Gators look to stay undefeated in the conference as they get ready for their toughest SEC road games thus far.

Alabama is first in the SEC West, and Auburn has one of the most impressive players in the conference in midfielder Katy Frierson, who has been named to the All-SEC team the past two years.

“Our team gained a lot of confidence this weekend,” Burleigh said. “But we know that we have to have a strong commitment to defense in order to beat these two teams. On the road especially, your defense is what generates your offense.”

She added: “It’s great to play at a high level, and it’s great to play well at home, but you have to play at a high level week in and week out. And that’s the key for us. If we keep continuing to do that we will have good results.”

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