Today, for the first time in program history, Florida will play against Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
And while the Gators may not be overly familiar with their opponent, they still understand how difficult it will be to advance past the Badgers.
“They have one of the best players in collegiate soccer in Rose Lavelle,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said on Wednesday. “I think their coach is really, really good. She’s won at the highest levels. I really respect how she prepares her team and the buy-in she gets from her team. So you know they are going to be ready.”
Lavelle, the 2016 Big Ten Midfielder of the Year, leads Wisconsin with six goals and 16 points this season.
But the Gators have been able to contain their opponents’ offensive weapons all year long.
In the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Gators kept SEC Offensive Player of the Year Savannah McCaskill out of the net.
And in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against FGCU, Florida didn’t allow Tabitha Tindell, who is No. 2 on the NCAA’s list of active career leaders in points and goals, any opportunities to score either.
“They are a different opponent than we have ever seen before,” goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese said. “Right now, I’m just super excited to get back on the field.”
The Gators' defense, which gave up 16 goals in its first 10 matches, has only given up six goals in the last 11 matches. UF has also recorded nine shutouts on the season.
Florida’s offense, led by senior forward Savannah Jordan, is one of the best in the SEC, leading the conference in goals, goals per game and assists.
Jordan leads the team in nearly every statistical category, including points, shots, and goals.
But Jordan isn’t doing it all by herself.
In the last five matches, five other players besides Jordan have been able to score for the Gators.
“That’s kind of the nature of the way we play,” Burleigh said. “It is kind of cool when you can have multiple weapons on a team. And not just for scoring, but for anything. For playmaking, defending, anything. And I think our team has done a good job of it.”
If Florida advances past the Badgers, they will host the winner of the Auburn-Connecticut match on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Sweet 16.
“We’re excited to play them,” Markese said. “It could be our last game, it could be their last game so we know that we are all going to put everything we have out on the field.”
UF goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese throws the ball back into play during the first half of Florida's 5-2 win against Iowa State on Aug. 19, 2016, at James G. Pressly Stadium.