There was a small eruption inside the Lemerand Athletic Center on Monday afternoon, as Florida’s soccer team learned its fate for the NCAA Tournament.
Ranked No. 17 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll entering Monday’s selection show, UF (14-6) secured a No. 3 seed in the 64-team bracket and will host South Alabama in the first round of the tournament on Friday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
It will be Florida’s first match since its loss in the SEC Tournament semifinals on Thursday to eventual champion Texas A&M.
Despite a tough, overtime defeat to the Aggies, UF coach Becky Burleigh believes the early exit is a blessing in disguise for her team going forward.
“The cool thing about the SEC Tournament is that it’s a practice run for a one-and-done situation,” Burleigh said. “I think that seeing them celebrate … is a really good reminder of how tenuous things are and how we have to leave everything on the field going forward.”
The earlier-than-expected exit from the SEC Tournament also provides the Gators with some much-needed rest.
After losing defender Kristen Cardano to a torn ACL and forward Deanne Rose to the Canadian national team, UF has called on midfielders Parker Roberts and Mayra Pelayo to fill in on the front and back lines.
With Roberts playing defense and Pelayo playing up top, Florida has had to sacrifice key depth in its midfield, calling on usual substitutes Sammie Betters and Tess Sapone to start in their place.
“We’re a little bit thin right now, and we needed some rest so we got that,” Burleigh said. “We got to have Saturday off, trained a little bit Sunday. So it’s been a good break for us.”
The break puts the Gators back in their regular season rhythm as they prepare for a South Alabama team that’s been one of the nation’s most consistent programs in recent history.
The Jaguars are five-time defending Sun Belt Conference champions and play a schedule heavy in tough, non-conference teams such as Auburn, Alabama and Florida State. South Alabama even defeated the Seminoles when they were ranked No. 1 in 2016, a feat Florida hasn’t accomplished since 2015.
But UF also played a difficult schedule this year, largely in part to the depth of its conference.
Florida is one of eight SEC teams to make the 2017 NCAA Tournament. It has the third-highest seed of all SEC teams, with South Carolina receiving the top seed in UF’s region of the bracket and Texas A&M receiving a No. 2 seed.
However, even with another potential matchup with South Carolina looming, Burleigh and her team aren’t looking past South Alabama.
“We’ll be doing a lot of research from this point forward,” Burleigh said. “They’ve been very good so it’s definitely not a team you can take lightly.”
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