After coming to Florida’s rescue many times this season, goal-keeper Susi Espinoza footed much of the blame on Friday night, as her costly 27th minute error led to the opening goal in UF’s 2-1 loss to Tennessee.
Two of the seven missing Gators from last weekend’s loss at South Carolina, Georgia Eaton-Collins and Ashlyn Kane, returned to action against the Volunteers. But five Florida regulars, along with head couch Becky Burleigh, were ineligible due to COVID-19 protocol.
Despite the absences, UF started brightly in an open-ended beginning to the contest, with the teams combining for four shots through the first five minutes. Nicole Vernis was dynamic down the left wing, taking on defenders and winning a sixth-minute corner that nearly put UF ahead.
Parker Roberts fired a shot from the top of the box, beating Tennessee keeper Lindsey Romig only for her effort to be cleared off the line.
Espinoza’s error came in the 28th minute, as her miss kick landed at the feet of Tennessee midfielder Claudia Dipasupil. To her credit, Dipasupil had quite a bit to do after receiving the ball, lofting a strike past a diving Espinoza.
The Volunteers remained dominant going into halftime, locking UF into their own half and generating a number of chances from corner kicks.
Florida’s Maddy Rhodes had a golden opportunity coming out of the locker room. The freshman forward struck a partially cleared cross on the full volley, firing a blistering effort off the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
Parker Roberts came desperately close to equalizing in the 64th minute, as Roberts struck the front of the crossbar on a long range effort. Her shot ricocheted off the bar and Romig’s back before going out for a corner kick.
The Gators grew into the game after halftime, promoting calls for consistency from coach Becky Burleigh.
“You know, I think we just have to be more consistent,” Burleigh said. “I think that we did have some good chances for sure. But I think, at the same time, we gave Tennessee a little bit too much. We have to clean it up on both sides.”
Despite Florida’s improved performance, it was Tennessee that wrapped up the three points in the 70th minute. UF’s zonal marking on corners was undone once again as Dipasupil’s service found Thomas at the near post, who nodded home UT’s second goal of the game.
“Ultimately, you know we can do tactically what we want to do but I think it comes down to just us being more aggressive in going after the ball,” Burleigh said regarding her team’s defending on corner kicks.
Florida clawed a goal back in the 80th minute, with Rhodes and Roberts testing the Tennessee defense again. Roberts freed herself in the box and headed Rhodes’ corner past Romig, giving the Gators life with ten minutes remaining.
Despite probing for an equalizer, UF failed to test Romig’s net and Tennessee ran out of Gainesville as 2-1 victors. For UF’s seniors, it’s a difficult way to say goodbye to life at Donald R. Dizney stadium, as Florida will be on the road for its final two games this season.
The Gators will look to end their four-game losing skid next Friday in Lexington, Kentucky to take on the Wildcats. The match will begin at 7 p.m. and is being broadcasted on the SEC Network Plus.
Contact Declan Walsh at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dawalsh_UF.