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Friday, September 30, 2022

Florida to face No. 2 South Carolina in SEC Tournament semifinals

<p>Melanie Monteagudo (far right) heads the ball into the net during Florida's 6-0 win over Alabama on Oct. 20, 2016, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.</p>

Melanie Monteagudo (far right) heads the ball into the net during Florida's 6-0 win over Alabama on Oct. 20, 2016, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

With Florida’s biggest game of the season on the line Wednesday night, Melanie Monteagudo stood nervously at midfield hoping the fate of the contest wouldn’t come down to her.

The UF forward was slated to shoot eighth for the Gators after their Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinal match against the Missouri Tigers went to penalty kicks. However, neither team missed through the first five rounds of the shootout, and the weight of the situation began to hit her.

“I was like, ‘Please don’t get to me. I’m number eight. Like, I can’t do this right now,’” Monteagudo said.

But she did.

Following a miss from Missouri one shot before her turn, Monteagudo stepped into the penalty box and struck a perfectly placed ball past the goalkeeper and into the lower left corner of the net.

Now, No. 15 UF (13-4-1, 8-3 SEC) has to deal with the repercussions of that kick: a demanding and grueling battle in the conference semifinals against one of the best teams in the country, South Carolina.

The No. 2 Gamecocks (18-0-1, 11-0 SEC), who the Gators will face at 4:30 p.m. today, are the tournament’s top seed after becoming the first SEC squad to go undefeated in the conference regular season since Florida did in 2008.

South Carolina is the only team left in the NCAA without a loss on its record and features a lineup that is full of talent. Six of its players received conference honors at the conclusion of the regular season, including five being named to the All-SEC first team.

Junior forward Savannah McCaskill led the league in goals (16) and points (40) and won the 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Freshman goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski was just as good, boasting a mere 0.43 goals-against average to finish sixth in the entire nation.

And standout senior defenders Kaleigh Kurtz and Paige Bendell lead the Gamecocks’ backline, a unit that helped its team finish sixth in the NCAA in goals allowed per game. Kurtz also received the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Despite the fact UF has already lost to South Carolina once this season — a 1-0 double overtime defeat in Columbia — the Gators enter today’s match confident they can snap the Gamecocks’ winning streak.

“I think we’re all excited to play them again,” sophomore midfielder Sarah Troccoli said. “It was a really good game in general (last time), and we’re ready.”

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A video posted to FloridaGators.com contributed to this report.

Contact Dylan Dixon at ddixon@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.

Melanie Monteagudo (far right) heads the ball into the net during Florida's 6-0 win over Alabama on Oct. 20, 2016, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

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