Florida soccer, volleyball pull off upsets against top-ranked teams

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida soccer team had only one win against a No. 1 team in program history. The Florida volleyball team had only defeated the top team in the country twice in 16 tries.

But on Friday night, the two Gators teams proved they could compete with the best in the nation. No. 8 Florida soccer upended No. 1 Stanford 3-2 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium to open the day and then the No. 12 Gators volleyball team defeated No. 1 Texas 3-1 in the 2017 season opener.

It’s a young season, but these two teams that are perennially in the hunt for a national championship are off to the strong starts they were looking for.

‘Share the moment’

Lais Araujo received a pass in the middle of the box — just in front Stanford’s goal — and moved forward. She faked a shot and dribbled to the right past Stanford’s Michelle Xiao before chipping a shot with her right foot in the 81st minute. The ball bended and sailed into the upper-right sector of the goal.

Araujo charged back toward midfield with her arms extended as her teammates mobbed her in celebration.

For the first time all game, the Gators had a lead on the top team in the country.  Nine minutes later, Florida won 3-2 and celebrated its first win against Stanford in six attempts.

“I just wanted to run to the girls,” Araujo said. “I love my bench because they bring such energy to us. I just wanted to share the moment with them.”

Florida is hoping to have many more moments like that this season, especially after getting off to a 3-0-0 start.

But after opening the season with a 1-0 win over Florida Atlantic and a 5-0 win over Troy, Florida had a tougher time breaking away against Stanford.

The Gators had to come back from deficits twice on Friday.

In the 25th minute, Florida goalkeeper Susi Espinoza slapped a shot attempt from Tierna Davidson out of the box straight to Stanford’s Catarina Macario, who blasted a shot from about 10 yards for the first goal of the match. The Gators responded in the 40th minute with a 20-yard strike from junior Samantha Chung, who took a feed from Madison Alexander and blasted the shot from the top of the box for a 1-1 halftime score.

Stanford took a 2-1 lead in the 59th minute when Beattie Goad slipped a shot past Espinoza from 6 yards.

Florida wasn’t ready to admit defeat just yet, though.

“Our message was this was our environment,” Espinoza said. “We are on our field. We’re going to get it back, we’re going to get another one in and we’re going to win no matter what.”

That they did.

Redshirt senior Gabby Seiler scored the equalizer — her third goal in as many games — in the 78th minute, heading in a cross from teammate Mayra Pelayo with ease. Three minutes later, Araujo sliced the game-winning shot into the back of the net.

“One game doesn’t define us,” Florida coach Becky Burleigh said. “The things that we did in that game – our toughness, our grittiness and all that – that defines us.

“The result itself doesn’t define us.”

‘The effort was great’

The Florida volleyball team entered the Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to a deafening roar. The goal was to get 6,000 fans into the O’Connell Center for the season opener against No. 1 Texas, which also doubled as the Gators’ debut in the arena since the $64.5 million renovations took place.

An announced crowd of 7,523 — the second largest in Florida volleyball history — kept the noise level up all night, and the Gators did just enough to pull off a 3-1 upset against the Longhorns on Friday night.

“It’s fun to play with a huge crowd, and I feel all of us deserve having a huge crowd there,” sophomore middle blocker Rachael Kramer said. “We work so hard in the offseason, and it’s so great to see the fans show up.”

Senior outside hitter Carli Snyder led the way with a match-high 14 kills. She added a career-high 6 service aces and a career-high-tying 20 digs. Middle blockers Kramer and Rhamat Alhassan combined for 20 kills and 11 block assists.

“Boy, the effort was great,” Florida coach Mary Wise said.

It takes a certain amount of effort to defeat the No. 1 team in the country, especially at the start of a season in which the Gators (1-0) are retooling their offense and substitution patterns.

The new techniques worked in the first two sets. Florida opened the match with a 25-16 victory, closing the first set on a 12-3 run, and then went up 2-0 with a 25-23 win in Set 2. After Texas closed the gap by winning the third set 25-18, Alhassan took charge in the huddle, giving the team a rally speech before the start of the fourth set.

“I had to wait my turn,” Wise said. “I think Rhamat, she’s always been very driven.”

Florida responded with a 25-21 victory to clinch the match.

It wasn’t the prettiest of performances. Florida only hit .164 — its lowest efficiency in a win since 2012. It was, however, enough to defeat the No. 1 team in the country.

And Wise knows it’s just the beginning.

“What we told the team beforehand is no season is won or lost in August,” Wise said. “What it is is a starting point.”

What’s next?

Florida soccer next plays at 7 p.m. Sunday against Syracuse. A livestream is available through SECNetwork+ on the WatchESPN app.

The Gators volleyball team plays at 5 p.m. Saturday against No. 5 Nebraska. The match will be televised on the SEC Network.

The post Florida soccer, volleyball pull off upsets against top-ranked teams appeared first on SEC Country.

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