Florida’s soccer team entered the 2016 SEC Tournament in a somewhat unfamiliar underdog role. The Gators weren’t the league’s No. 1 seed or its top-ranked team — South Carolina was both of those — and looked unlikely to repeat as tournament champions in Orange Beach.
Then they did anyway.
On Sunday evening, Brooke Sharp headed in a golden goal to down Arkansas 2-1 in the tournament final, giving Florida its 12th SEC Tournament title under coach Becky Burleigh.
Florida opened up a 1-0 lead in the first half of the game against the Razorbacks thanks to senior Savannah Jordan pivoting in the box and sending her 15th goal of the 2016 season into the net.
And while Arkansas equalized late in the second half, the Gators’ answer in overtime, set up by Maggie Dougherty Howard lofting a fine cross to Sharp from deep within the box, was equally clutch.
Florida’s run in Orange Beach as a whole was a remarkable one, too. The fourth-seeded Gators converted their first eight penalty kicks to down fifth-seeded Missouri on Wednesday, then handed No. 2 and top-seeded South Carolina its first loss all season in a Friday semifinal.
The title is the 26th total SEC title of Burleigh’s tenure as Florida’s lone soccer coach, and makes the Gators back-to-back SEC Tournament champions for the first time since 2001, when Florida finished off an incredible six straight sweeps of the SEC’s regular season and postseason titles.
It is also the first SEC crown claimed by the Gators under new athletic director Scott Stricklin, which leaves him 129 titles shy of Florida’s haul under Jeremy Foley.
You're still 129 SEC titles behind Foley, @ScottStricklin, but this is an auspicious start.— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) November 6, 2016
@AlligatorArmy I tried to all 130 in the first week, but apparently it’s going to take some time— Scott Stricklin (@ScottStricklin) November 6, 2016
The 2016 NCAA Tournament, also known as the Women’s College Cup — in which Florida will probably have to travel to Stanford or something — begins on November 11.