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Friday December 4, 1998FL Soccer Advances To First NCAA Championship

Greensboro, NC

If defense wins national championships, the University of Florida women’s soccer team made a strong bid Friday with its 1-0 NCAA national semifinal win over Santa Clara at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro Soccer Stadium. Florida advances to the NCAA Championship match for the first time and will face the winner of the North Carolina-Portland match on Sunday at 1 p.m. The match will air live on ESPN.

The Gators (25-1) posted one of their best all-around defensive efforts of the season against the Broncos (22-1-1), a team that entered the match with a NCAA-record 16 consecutive shutouts.

Florida’s defensive effort was anchored by goalkeeper Meredith Flaherty and All-SEC defender Heather Mitts. Flaherty made a number of spectacular saves throughout the match, especially late as Florida clung to a one-goal lead, and Mitts covered a lot of ground on the back line.

"It was definitely a total team effort, but sometimes individual players step up," said Florida Head Coach Becky Burleigh, who is now the first female head coach to lead her team to the NCAA Championship match for women’s soccer. "That’s what Meri (Flaherty) did today."

Santa Clara dominated the offensive attack in the first 22 minutes of play, out-shooting Florida 4-1. But Florida, which hasn’t been shutout all season, switched formations at the television timeout and moved a third forward up to attack. The tactic, one Florida has employed throughout the season, paid off minutes later when Florida pushed the game’s first goal across the line.

"After the TV timeout, we switched to a 3-4-3 formation," Burleigh said. "I think that getting that goal really surprised Santa Clara because they had that shutout streak going."

Florida’s Melissa Pini sent a hard low pass into the penalty area toward Danielle Fotopoulos. Fotopoulos ricocheted a shot off Santa Clara goalkeeper Crystal Gordon, and Sarah Yohe ran onto the ball and placed it in the near corner of the net.

Yohe, who missed Florida’s first two matches in the NCAA Tournament with a hip flexor injury, has now returned to the lineup with two goals in the last two matches.

The Gators had numerous offensive chances to put the match out of reach. Abby Wambach had three shots behind the Broncos’ defense but failed to convert. Fotopoulos appeared to score the clinching goal with less than 2 minutes to play, but it was negated by an offside call.

Santa Clara had good opportunities to score but was consistently turned away by Flaherty and the Florida defense.

"Kind of ironic that they shut us out," said Santa Clara Head Coach Jerry Smith. "We didn’t expect to shut them out, but we just wanted to score more goals than they did."

Flaherty kept the Broncos out of the net with seven saves. Florida also had two saves from Mitts and one from Wambach when they cleared balls off the Florida back line. Gordon recorded four saves for Santa Clara.

Florida’s Kerri Doran was injured just before halftime when she collided with a Santa Clara player in front of the Florida net. Doran suffered a gash above the left eyebrow and had to be taken to the hospital. Her status for Sunday’s match is listed as questionable.

Florida, in only its fourth year, is one the youngest teams to advance to the NCAA Championship match. Central Florida and George Mason made the finals in their second year.

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