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Playing for each other has moved Florida from a 2-2 league start to a position to challenge for the SEC title Thursday.

Wednesday October 30, 2013Playing for Each Other has Gator Soccer Playing for SEC Title Thursday

Gainesville, Fla.

Playing for each other has moved Florida from a 2-2 league start to a position to challenge for the SEC title Thursday.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Becky Burleigh kept hearing throughout the season how close the Florida soccer team was. Much, much closer, she was told, than in recent years.


Fine, Burleigh said. Prove it. 


And prove it where it matters. 


“I don’t care what it means off the field,” she told them. “Show me what it means on the field.” 


For the last six matches, it’s meant some spectacular soccer, intertwined with a running narrative of communication, accountability and caring about one another. 


That’s how the sixth-ranked Gators have won six straight Southeastern Conference matches without surrendering a goal and why after a 2-2 start in league play they’ll head to Georgia Thursday with a chance to clinch a share of the SEC crown.


Should the Gators (14-3-1, 8-2 SEC) defeat the Bulldogs (12-5-1, 5-4-1 SEC), UF will finish the conference season at 9-2 and do no worse than claim a tie for the title with Texas A&M, which takes on LSU later Thursday night. 


Florida is seeking a third regular-season SEC championship in the last four seasons. That would be quite an achievement, given where the team sat just three weeks ago. 


“At the start of the season, things sort of got away from us,” senior midfielder Caroline Triglia said. “Now, after the weekend [with wins at Tennessee and home against A&M], we’re finally back in the driver’s seat. It’s gotten us really excited. Championships never get old and we can see this one off in the distance. We want it bad.” 


They’ve played like they do. 


And what’s put a smile on Burleigh’s face along the way is that the Gators played like Triglia wants it for Taylor Travis, who wants it for Tessa Andujar, who wants it for Claire Falknor, who wants it for Karina Gutsche, and so on and so on, all the way up the field. 


“Becky talks about it all the time,” junior goalkeeper Taylor Burke said. “If we care so much about each other -- and we do; this is a very closed-knit group -- then make it apparent on the field.” 


During this run of six straight shutout victories, Burleigh has seen microcosmic examples of caring for one another that have played out in each match. The totality of those instances have the Gators peaking at exactly the right time.


The postseason commences Monday with the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Ala., with NCAA bids to follow. 


“I really think they’ve been showing loyalty to one another with the way they defend hard for each other,” Burleigh said. “And with their trust. A trust, offensively, when they play a ball to someone who has a defender on their back; the trust that when you give someone the ball you’re going to get it back. I think those are all team-first actions. People are playing their roles, even though it may not be the role they specifically want. Overall, when you start showing those things on a consistent basis, it all starts to come together.” 


It’s been a special run of six games and 559 minutes of being really, really close -- and not giving up a single goal, the longest such streak since 2007. Clearly, there’s a correlation between the tightness and tautness this team is showing up with match after match. 


Now, the Gators look to reap the first wave of what they hope are a series of rewards and achievements. After all, despite playing some really on-point soccer, they haven’t accomplished anything tangible, yet. 


“We don’t have a title in hand, or anything really,” Triglia said. “But to come back from where we were? That’s something to build on. It’s hard to win that many straight games in the SEC, so I’m proud of our team and hoping we can finish strong. We’ve worked hard and deserve a shot at this championship.”




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