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Friday, February 03, 2023

Florida soccer falls for first time in SEC play

Ole Miss defeated the Gators 1-0 Sunday

<p>Florida junior Anna DeLeon kicks a ball during the Gators&#x27; Sept. 23 game against Kentucky. She scored the first goal of her collegiate career Sunday night against Stetson. </p>

Florida junior Anna DeLeon kicks a ball during the Gators' Sept. 23 game against Kentucky. She scored the first goal of her collegiate career Sunday night against Stetson.

The Diz was electric, with Gainesville faithful packing Donald R. Dizney Stadium on Sunday afternoon in hopes that Florida could extend its win streak in conference play against the visiting Rebels. 

Unfortunately for the throngs of fans, Mississippi’s playmakers did enough to secure a 1-0 victory as the Gators dropped their first game of SEC competition. 

Florida kept the ball in the Rebels half for much of the opening ten minutes but failed to register a strong chance. Sophomore midfielder Nicole Vernis’s right-footed effort from 20 yards out marked Florida’s first shot of the match, but the ball bounced harmlessly into Rebels keeper Ashley Orkus’s hands, never scaring a score.

After fifteen minutes, a sustained period of Mississippi possession broke the dam. The Gators looked to be out of the woods until forward Channing Foster stole the ball in Florida’s box, turned to face goal and rifled a shot around sophomore keeper Alexa Goldberg and into the side netting. 

Florida trailed 0-1. 

A diving save from Goldberg on a Rebs set piece kept the deficit at one. Without the Florida’s keeper consistent heroics this season, matches like Sunday’s versus Mississippi might have spiraled out of control. Instead, the Gators remained just one strike away from tying the match. 

The first half concluded without incident, neither team registering a shot on goal in the final five minutes.

Rebels midfielder Haleigh Stackpole, who entered Sunday’s fixture averaging an assist per appearance, caused problems early and often for Florida’s defense. Her ability to beat defenders one-on-one and make key passes into the final third almost created a second and third goal for Mississippi. 

Fortunately for the Gators, the Rebels’ end product was insufficient to stretch their lead in the opening period. 

Florida opened the final half strong, earning corners and forcing Ole Miss to defend deep in their own side. 

A sloppy foul at the edge of the box by the Rebels set up a potentially game-changing free kick in a dangerous position. However, Orkus denied the breakthrough goal the Gators so badly needed. 

Head coach Tony Amato made a flurry of substitutions with ten minutes to play, reintroducing his most dangerous attackers in search of a difference-maker. 

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A curling effort from one of those would-be difference makers, graduate forward Madison Alexander, nearly leveled the match with just minutes on the clock, but Orkus’ acrobatic save ensured a Rebels victory in Gainesville. 

“It was really about the final product in terms of finishing some of those chances and really executing in those moments,” Amato said. “We did the tough stuff well“.”

Florida, now 3-6-3 for the year, travels to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Longhorns Thursday at 7 p.m. The game can be streamed live through SEC Network+. 

Contact Ryan Zehnder at rzehnder@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_zehnder.

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