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When senior Kathryn Williamson, (left) suffered a knee injury, Annie Bobbitt, (c), and Karina Gutsche filled void.

Thursday November 8, 2012Woman Down, Woman Up Has Worked for Gators Soccer Team

When senior Kathryn Williamson, (left) suffered a knee injury, Annie Bobbitt, (c), and Karina Gutsche filled void.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators soccer coach Becky Burleigh liked her team's depth going into the season.

The way she had it mapped out, the roster was deep enough to help Florida stay fresh. She could play a lot of players, keep them healthy and have a fully charged roster. That way, by the time the postseason rolled around, the Gators might not be as bruised and battered as other teams.

Burleigh chuckles at that thought now.

"It didn't quite work out that way,'' she said.

Not even close.

There was one stretch when injured All-American senior defender Kathryn Williamson watched from the sideline and realized how bad it had become. Standing next to Williamson was Florida’s other All-American, senior midfielder Erika Tymrak.

"Wow, I never thought this would happen in our senior year,'' Williamson said to Tymrak.

Not even the great prophet Nostradamus saw this Florida season coming, Burleigh's 18th and one of her most challenging.

Williamson played five matches before going down with a knee injury. Tymrak missed three matches due to a sprained ankle. When Williamson, the 2010 SEC Defensive Player of the Year got hurt, sophomore Annie Bobbitt stepped into the void and filled in admirably.

Then Bobbitt hurt her knee.

Welcome to the lineup, sophomore Karina Gutsche.

The football team relies on a man down, man up mantra. It has been woman down, woman up for UF's soccer team all season.

"We've never really had this situation happen,'' said Williamson, who returned to practice on Wednesday in hopes of playing for the first time since Sept. 2 when the Gators host Florida Gulf Coast University on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. "It's something you never want to see."

Still, the Gators found a way. Found a way to win the regular-season SEC title. Found a way to win the SEC Tournament title. Found a way to win 14 of their last 15 matches heading into Friday's NCAA rematch with FGCU.

The Gators beat FGCU 3-0 last season in the first round.

The reason Florida has kept its head above water and flourished is because of players like Bobbitt, Gutsche and junior midfielder Caroline Triglia.

Triglia was called upon Sunday in Florida's win over Auburn in the SEC Tournament title match when starter Jo Dragotta suffered a head injury. She played 37 minutes, the second-highest amount of minutes she played all season.

With Dragotta questionable for Friday, Triglia may have to assume even a larger role than normal.

No big deal. These Gators have been there, done that.

"The competition at practice gets you prepared for it,'' said Triglia, who has appeared in 17 of 22 matches. "I know that role like the back of my hand. I'm comfortable there. It's actually my favorite position to play."

Triglia's attitude is one that is rampant for the Gators. Rather than blinking at their misfortune, they look past it and quickly adapt.

"I admire everyone on the team,'' said Bobbitt, who played in 16 matches and started 10. "No matter who has stepped up, the whole team has made you feel comfortable. In my position as a center back, it's really hard because that's such a crucial position in our system.

"To have so many injuries there, it's really hard. But to see us overcome it and to see our confidence build is awesome."

The Gators won't be the only team possibly shorthanded on Friday. FGCU will be without Atlantic-Sun Conference Defensive Player of the Year Ashley Ciesielczyk due to a one-game suspension.

Still, Burleigh sees a dangerous team heading to Gainesville from its campus in Fort Myers. The Eagles (14-3-3) won the A-Sun regular-season title and conference title like the Gators did in the SEC.

FGCU coach Jim Blankenship is no stranger to success. He built winning programs at Miami and Lynn University before taking over FGCU.

"The thing that stands out to me is that they know how to be successful,'' Burleigh said. "[Jim] knows how to win. When you have a coach that instills that in a team -- and obviously they've progressed through that, to lose three games in a season is pretty amazing -- there is nobody at this point that we take lightly."

The Gators could get a much-needed boost if Williamson can return. She is one of the country's top defenders when healthy. She is also one of Florida's emotional leaders and instrumental in the 4-2-3-1 up-tempo system the Gators play to keep possession of the ball and limit opponents' attacks.

"She is a huge leader on our team,'' Triglia said. "When she is out there, she makes a difference. She gets everyone pumped up and makes tackles. No one really ever beats her."

If she can't go, Williamson isn't too concerned about Bobbitt and Gutsche's ability to get the job done.

They have been doing it for two months.

"It speaks volumes about the team, about how we are able to overcomer the adversity, how deep our bench is,'' Williamson said. "It's awesome to watch people succeed and grow. I think a lot of the girls who have stepped in have almost been underrated, overlooked, and have been able to shine.

"Everybody needs to recognize their ability."

No one needs to remind Burleigh of that. Not after what the Gators have done on the way to the program's 10th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Now that they are here, they don't plan to let up. Even if that means someone else goes down on Friday.

"You know they have your back,'' Bobbitt said of the bench players. "I feel like we have a mission, we have a job to do. Whoever steps in there is going to do great."

No reason to question Bobbitt's outlook. Not after what these Gators have done.

 

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