Out of the many articles I have written, this has to be one of the toughest ones. The Florida Gators women's soccer team was on the cusp of going to the Final Four for just the third time in program history, but it was not to be tonight. Going up against a Stanford Cardinal team that had just lost one game the whole year, the Gators fell by a score of 3-2 in penalty kicks.
Let me just say how much I abhor penalty kicks. Regardless if Florida had won or not, I believe that penalty kicks are not a suitable way to decide a soccer match. These girls are out here for 110 minutes and you want me to believe that they are okay with the game coming down to the ability of five of their teammates to score on a 12-yard kick?
Not to mention the pressure it puts on the goalie, who becomes vilified if she can't perform in the clutch. Senior goalkeeper Taylor Burke did allow three Stanford penalty kicks with the last one being the game winner. Still, I believe she is a phenomenal goalkeeper and I do not fault her one bit for this loss. It is a real shame that her collegiate career had to end in such an agonizing matter. She will be missed dearly.
As for the lineup for the PK's, it was as follows: senior Annie Bobbitt, senior Annie Speese, sophomore Pamela Begic, senior Havana Solaun, and junior Lauren Silver. As good as a kicking lineup as this was, I was shocked to not see sophomore Savannah Jordan in there as she was the team's leading scorer. Bobbitt and Speese would miss their two attempts, while the next three all found the back of the net.
The controversial decision to not insert Jordan was one made by head coach Becky Burleigh and I will try my best not to question it. It was puzzling though, and many Gator fans (including myself) will probably be wondering for awhile why the best player on the team was not in for penalty kicks with a Final Four spot on the line.
It would be easy to blame Coach Burleigh, Bobbitt and Speese, or even goalkeeper Taylor Burke. At the end of the day, however, Stanford was just a better team. They already proved it before when they beat the Gators 1-0 in overtime on this very field on September 12th.
Also, the Gators should have lost 2-1 and would not have even extended the game to penalty kicks had Stanford not scored an own goal. Not to mention that Speese was the one who assisted on Havana Solaun's game tying goal in the 79th minute.
For anyone wanting to blame Bobbitt, she is primarily a defender and Coach Burleigh surely had reasons for putting her in. At the end of the day, Coach Burleigh knows way more than all of us spectators do.
This loss is going to sting the girls, especially the seniors, for a decent amount of time. However, nobody can take away how much this team has accomplished this year. Posting an overall record of 17-5-1, going 10-0 at home, and finishing second in the SEC is a ton to be proud of. With a majority of the team coming back for 2015, look for the Gators to get back in the Elite Eight and maybe even further next season.
As one team weeps, another cheers. After outlasting the Gators, Stanford (21-1-2) will now head to the Final Four in Boca Raton, Florida, to take on the Florida State Seminoles (22-1-1). This is going to be a great game and I will be rooting hard for Stanford.
Even though the Cardinal beat Florida, nothing would make me happier than to see Stanford knock FSU out of the Final Four. I am still upset they beat Florida, but I rather see the Gators lose to Stanford than FSU any day of the week. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. on December 5th.
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com & NCAA.com