Becky Burleigh’s Florida Gators have been sitting comfortably for quite a long time.
They’ve only missed the NCAA tournament two times since their first season in 1995, and they have yet to post a losing record in the regular season (they went .500 in 2002). When she was asked if she was thinking about the SEC tournament after UF’s win against Georgia on Thursday, however, Burleigh gave what is very likely a rare answer.
“Hell no!” Burleigh said, vigorously shaking her head. “I’m thinking about Missouri. The SEC tournament is a figment of our imagination at this point. We still have games to play to get there.”
There was a time when a losing record was a figment of Florida’s imagination, but here it is, sitting at 5-8-3. On top of that, the Gators have been shut out in 10 games this season, once in a streak of six and later in a streak of four. Though they did manage to find the back of the net in their 1-0 win against Georgia to break the four-game streak, their past sins are far from erased.
With almost a complete lack of offense and a growing sense of urgency, there’s a simple question to be asked.
To start, the women’s national teams all over the globe are gearing up for the 2019 World Cup. Deanne Rose, UF’s leading scorer from last year, has only just returned from an extended stretch with the Canadian National Team, and freshman defender Georgia Eaton-Collins is also back after playing in her home in England. Their late return certainly didn’t help, but it could be argued that the Gators’ opponents have been going through the same thing without the losses to show for it.
Injuries have also plagued Florida’s team. It has been without Rachelle Smith, Parker Roberts and Kit Loferski for the season which, piled on top of the absences of Eaton-Collins and Rose, begins to add up. The team can’t afford to lose anyone else, and although Melanie Monteagudo’s absence against Georgia due to a late red card in the team’s previous game didn’t hurt the Gators this time, they’ll need to stay disciplined and avoid any further slip-ups as their SEC Tournament hopes grow slimmer and slimmer.
These aren’t the Florida Gators that soccer fans are used to seeing, and this isn’t a culture that the Gators’ seasoned veterans have grown accustomed to, either. With two games left in the season, Florida will need to win out and get its currently abysmal offense firing if it wants to have any chance of making the postseason.
River Wells is a sports writer at The Alligator. Follow him on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.