It was an emotional weekend for the Florida soccer team.
The No. 17 Gators (12-4, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) held their Senior Day on Sunday afternoon, the final regular-season home match in the careers of their eight-player graduating class.
UF won in thrilling fashion, defeating Mississippi State 1-0 after sophomore midfielder Mayra Pelayo blasted a left-footed volley past Bulldogs goalkeeper Tanya De Souza in the 81st minute of the game.
However, it was a moment earlier in the week that stood out for senior Liz Slattery.
“(Coach Becky Burleigh) showed us this video she made beforehand of all of us seniors and just these moments picked out here and there of all of us together,” Slattery said. “All of us were just sobbing.”
While the end is getting closer for Slattery and her seven fellow seniors, the Gators still have one more regular-season match to play tonight against Missouri (11-5-1, 6-3-1 SEC) at 9 in Columbia.
The Tigers are one of the most offensively aggressive teams in the country. Their shots-per-game average (19.7) ranks first in the SEC and third in the NCAA. And freshman forward Sarah Luebbert’s 10 goals are tied for the third-best mark in the conference.
“They’re very athletic,” Burleigh said. “They play some unorthodox formations sometimes. They’re really, really good in the attack, and so I think we’ve got to be able to withstand that pressure.”
To counteract Missouri’s aggressive style of play, UF is expected to run a 3-5-2 formation, pairing a second forward at the top of the field alongside All-American Savannah Jordan while leaving only three players in the backline.
It’s not a system Florida has run much in 2016. However, the Gators still have confidence that their skill and cohesiveness as a unit will be enough to get by the Tigers.
“We’re good at adapting to that formation according to their formation,” Slattery said. “I think that as long as we play our game and do what we know how to do, we’ll take care of business.”
Every SEC team concludes its regular season tonight, meaning next week’s conference tournament will be finalized by the day’s end.
A win over Missouri would guarantee UF a top-four seed. The Gators are currently tied with Arkansas for third in the conference standings at seven wins apiece.
Florida has already clinched a first-round bye in the bracket, meaning it will kick off postseason action on Wednesday in the competition’s quarterfinals. The Gators have won three of the past six SEC tournaments.
Contact Dylan Dixon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.
UF midfielder Mayra Pelayo passes the ball during Florida's 5-2 win against Iowa State on Aug. 19, 2016, at James G. Pressly Stadium.