GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The third-seeded Texas A&M soccer team scored two first-half goals and held on to upset the second-seeded Florida Gators, 2-1, in front of 1,182 fans at the James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., on Sunday afternoon.
The Aggies were down 1-0 early and netted two goals in 46 seconds to improve to 18-4-1 and move on to the Elite Eight for the fourth time in program history and the first time since 2006. Florida ended its season with a 19-4-1 record.
A&M will play No. 1 seed North Carolina in the NCAA Quarterfinals at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Friday, Nov. 28.
“I’m proud of our players and the effort that they put in because I thought it was a great match,” said head coach G Guerrieri. “It was a game played by two teams that are accustomed to winning. You could see that in the end, especially the way that Florida threw numbers at us in the last 15 minutes. They put us under a ton of pressure and our defense held really well.”
A&M came out on attack immediately and just over a minute into the match sophomore Whitney Hooper was on a breakaway after a clearing header by junior Emily Peterson. Hooper dribbled into the penalty box and fired a shot low to the ground that went just wide of the goal.
The Aggies controlled the momentum through much of the first half, but Florida connected on its first shot in the 17th minute. Angela Napolitano got around an A&M defender and played the ball across the goalmouth, just out of reach of a diving Kelly Dyer, to Liz Ruberry who was waiting at the back post to knock a shot into the back of the net.
The pressure remained constant from A&M, and the 32nd minute freshman Beth West stole the ball in A&M’s attacking third and struck a shot from 20 yards that again was just wide.
In the 40th minute, the Aggies earned their second corner kick of the match. Freshman Becca Herrera sent a bender into the box and freshman Jennifer Kmezich flicked it on to the back post where senior Laura Grace Robinson struck a one-timer past the Florida keeper for the equalizer.
“Jen headed it and just floated it up there for a second and I was able to knock it past the keeper,” said Robinson. ”Set pieces have been something we’ve worked on all year and it was nice to be able to execute off that.”
Not even a minute later, A&M moved the ball back into its attacking third and from the top of the box West sent a through ball to Kmezich who rifled a shot past Katie Fraine as she came out of goal.
“We gained possession of the ball about 35 yards from goal and West was able to flatten the back line,” Guerrieri said. “Jen did a good job of keeping herself onside and in a position to see the goal and Beth fed the ball to her. Jen is a pure goal scorer.”
With a 2-1 lead at the half, the Aggies outshot the Gators 7-2 and held the advantage in corner kicks, 2-0.
Similar to the beginning of the game, A&M was dangerous just over a minute into the second period. West found freshman Rachael Balaguer near the corner of the box and the Austin, Texas, native moved into the penalty area and blasted a sliding shot just above the crossbar.
The Aggies continued to create scoring opportunities and in the 64th minute, Hooper controlled the ball on the right side and sent a cross to West at the far post. The midfielder headed a shot over Fraine that bounced loose near the goal and was finally cleared by a UF defender.
Redshirt freshman Kat Armstrong created her own opportunity in the 80th minute after pressuring the Gator center back and winning the ball near the top of the box. She then rifled a shot on target, but into the arms of Fraine.
Florida was in its attacking third late in the game and Herrera blocked a shot before Lindsay Thompson fired off a shot that bounced off the crossbar and out of play. UF also had two free kicks in its attacking third in the final seven minutes that the A&M defense cleared.
The Aggies bettered the Gators in shots (16-11), corners (5-2) and shots on goal (6-5). Dyer made four saves and A&M forced UF’s Fraine to make the same amount.
Stay logged on to AggieAthletics.com for more information on the upcoming NCAA Quarterfinal match at North Carolina on Friday.
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