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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Gators to face Vanderbilt in first round of SEC Tournament

<p>UF soccer coach Becky Burleigh talks with her team following Florida's 2-1 loss to Texas A&amp;M on Sept. 10, 2015, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.</p>

UF soccer coach Becky Burleigh talks with her team following Florida's 2-1 loss to Texas A&M on Sept. 10, 2015, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

After winning the regular season Southeastern Conference title last Thursday, the Florida soccer team shifts its focus to postseason play — and a tournament that last season included an early exit for UF.

Hoping to avoid back-to-back letdowns, No. 5 Florida (14-3-1, 8-2-1 SEC) will open up SEC tournament play tonight at 6 in Orange Beach, Alabama, against Vanderbilt.

The venue is one the Gators are very familiar with as well — it’s where UF was knocked out in the first game of tournament action in 2014.

As the No. 2 seed in the 2014 tournament, the Gators lost in a penalty kick shootout to Tennessee.

However, coach Becky Burleigh said the team doesn’t plan on suffering a disappointing defeat this year. She’s focused on getting to the second round and beyond.

"Given our short stay in Orange Beach last year, the returning players will certainly remind the players who haven’t been there yet what that felt like," Burleigh said. "We want to have more games together as a group. That’s kind of a big motivation for us in order to advance."

Junior forward Savannah Jordan said the team is using the early loss last year to fuel the team’s preparation for tonight’s match.

"We’ve kind of brought it up a little bit as motivation," Jordan said. "We don’t want that same feeling again because the feeling of going home on the first day, it sucks."

Jordan mentioned how last season’s exit took a toll on her personally.

"It was kind of unfortunate and unlucky," Jordan said. "I hate PKs honestly because I think it’s about the game of soccer and when it comes down to PKs, sometimes it’s just about luck and who can finish."

Aside from using the early round loss from a year ago to motivate Florida, junior midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard said the team knows nothing is set in stone.

"We’ve talked about how at this point we’re only guaranteed one game for the SEC tournament," Dougherty Howard said.

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The Gators enter the postseason tournament as the No. 1 seed and found out Monday that their opponent in the second round is Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt is the No. 8 seed and played their way into the second round after a 2-1 win over Georgia. Tonight’s match will also be the second time this season Florida and Vanderbilt will go head-to-head.

In the teams’ first meeting this year on Sept. 25, the Gators won 3-2 after midfielder Betsy Middleton’s 56th minute goal gave Florida just enough for the win.

Burleigh said that the SEC tournament poses a tough challenge for the Gators given that Vanderbilt has already seen what the team has to offer this season.

"I think it’s great to have an SEC tournament because it’s sort of like a practice for the NCAA tournament," Burleigh said.

"It gives you an opportunity to face teams for the second time which makes it much harder because people start to figure you out once you’ve played them the first time and I think that makes it even more of a challenge."

 Follow Ryan Summer on Twitter @RyanSummers18

UF soccer coach Becky Burleigh talks with her team following Florida's 2-1 loss to Texas A&M on Sept. 10, 2015, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

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