Julia Lester stood attentively at the top of the penalty box as Gabby Seiler’s corner kick sailed toward Missouri’s net.
The freshman defender watched as the ball was headed twice — once by Florida’s Pamela Begic and once by Missouri’s Jasmine Johnson — before it ricocheted right to her.
Lester didn’t hesitate, blasting a shot from more than 50 feet away past the goalkeeper and into the upper-right corner of the post.
Overjoyed with her second goal of the season, she leapt into fellow defender Rachelle Smith’s arms as the rest of her teammates mobbed her at midfield.
Lester’s strike in the 36th minute proved to be the difference for UF, as the No. 17 Gators (13-4, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) defeated the unranked Tigers (11-6-1, 6-4-1 SEC) 1-0 on Thursday night in the team's final regular-season match of the year.
Both teams’ defenses dominated from start to finish, led by goalkeepers Kaylan Marckese and Kelsey Dossey.
Marckese recorded her seventh shutout of the fall for Florida, making four saves. The sophomore from St. Petersburg concluded her 2016 regular season campaign having played every minute behind net for UF while sporting a 75.3 percent save percentage.
Dossey was just as good for Missouri, though, recording five saves — including numerous diving stops — that helped keep her team’s deficit at just one goal.
Offensively, the Gators and Tigers were evenly matched throughout the night.
Florida was outshot by a total of 16-to-14 but put up three more shots on goal than Missouri.
And despite not scoring, senior Florida forward Savannah Jordan was impressive in the final regular season contest of her career. She led the Gators with 6 total shots, including two on goal.
The All-American finished the fall with a statline of 13 goals, eight assists and 34 points and is currently the frontrunner for SEC Offensive Player of the Year.
Thursday’s victory means Florida will enter postseason play as the No. 4 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament held in Orange Beach, Alabama.
The Gators will face Missouri once again in the competition’s quarterfinal round on Wednesday.
UF has won three of the past six league tournaments and has been crowned conference champions 11 total times.
Julia Lester (20) battles for possession during Florida's win over UCF at James G. Pressly Stadium on Sept. 18, 2016.