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Thursday, December 02, 2021
<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-a05bbfc4-7fff-b410-1572-d9f42d1bc2e2"><span>Redshirt freshman midfielder Nicole Vernis fights for a ball at Florida’s home opener against Georgia this season. Vernis scored her first collegiate goal versus South Carolina Sunday afternoon.</span></span></p>

Redshirt freshman midfielder Nicole Vernis fights for a ball at Florida’s home opener against Georgia this season. Vernis scored her first collegiate goal versus South Carolina Sunday afternoon.

The Florida Gators finally tasted success after surpassing unranked Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday, 1-0, and now it’s time for the Gators to tackle a new challenge.

Head coach Tony Amato and the Gators return to Gainesville Thursday night at Donald R. Dizney Stadium to host the No. 2 North Carolina Tarheels, who enter with an undefeated record.

UNC blasted through opponents in 2021 with a notable 5-1 victory over Illinois on Aug. 26 and a 4-1 stance at home against Washington. The Tar Heels most recent victory came against Stanford in overtime on Sunday afternoon which ended in a 2-1 victory after a golden goal by junior defender Maycee Bell.

Amato is aware of the challenges that come with preparing for one of the top teams in the nation.

“We know (UNC) have a lot of good players and we're gonna have to be good in the boxes, good on set pieces and we're going to have to be willing to do the work all over the field,” Amato said. “We want to make sure that we're doing that and we can come out of that game, getting better in that area.”

Bell and Tar Heels’ freshman forward Emily Murphy have been major playmakers for their team, especially in the match with the Cardinal. The two laid down a total of seven shots and scored five goals this year for UNC.

Florida junior defender Alivia Gonzalez found her place in the offensive regiment by racking up a goal and two shots against FGCU plus an assist during the Sept. 2 loss to FSU. Meanwhile, graduate student Kit Loferski and redshirt sophomore Nicole Vernis are the other shot takers who have used their speed on the pitch to push the ball across the midfield. 

Sophomore goalkeeper Alexa Goldberg remains the heart of the defense after tallying 10 saves over the previous two matches to boost her season total to 32. In 2021, the netminder stands at 1.74 goals allowed average on 91 shots faced while keeping her save percentage to .744.

The Gators and Tarheels haven’t met since the squads came to a scoreless draw in 2012, but they have matched up 10 previous times, most notably when former head coach Becky Burleigh led the Gators to their first national title in the 1998 College Cup. 

Kickoff from the Diz’ Stadium is set for 7 p.m. and the match will be streamed on SEC Network+.

Contact Jesse Richardson at jrichardson@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JesseRich352.

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