GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Kentucky (6-0-4, 0-0-3 SEC) continues its unbeaten season with a 1-1 draw against the Florida Gators (4-3-3, 0-2-1 SEC) on Sunday afternoon at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
Recent meetings between these two Southeastern Conference Eastern Division rivals have been close as this is the second consecutive 1-1 tie. Florida won in overtime in the two prior matches to the recent ties.
Both teams entered Sunday's match looking for its first league win of 2023. Kentucky has registered a tie in each of its three SEC matches and today's result gives Florida its first league point.
The draw is the third in a row for the Wildcats to open SEC play, giving the Cats three points in the conference this season, more than they had all of last year. Kentucky is now unbeaten through its first 10 matches for the first time since 2005, when the Cats got results in their first 11 matches.
The first Gator goal for senior transfer Emily Yaple was the only goal of the opening half. She received the ball above the box and made an angled run toward the edge of the box. Her right-footed 20-yard strike scored at the far post corner. Yaple joined the Gators this season after scoring 10 goals in her three seasons with Pittsburgh.
Kentucky had its first quality scoring opportunity in the 57th minute off a free kick by Grace Phillpotts from near midfield. Phillpotts' left-footed boot was headed up in the air by a Gators' defender before Úlfa Úlfarsdóttir got a clean look, heading the ball on frame and forcing a leaping save from Florida goalkeeper, Alexa Goldberg.
Energized by this chance, Kentucky eventually leveled the match in the 65th minute when forward Maya Lacognato scored her second goal of the season off assists from Tanner Strickland and Jordyn Rhodes. After the Wildcats were awarded a throw-in near the right corner flag, Strickland thew the ball into the box to Rhodes. Rhodes held off her marker, dribbled toward the endline and played a right-footed pass across the goal that was finished by Lacognato with her right foot.
The goal was the second of the season for Lacognato, a grad-transfer from IUPUI. For Strickland the assist was her team-best fifth this year, marking the most by a Kentucky freshman since Marissa Bosco had five in 2016. Rhodes registered the primary assist on the goal, her first helper this season, bringing the grad-student to 15 points overall.
Florida kept looking for the go-ahead goal including a header that was just high by senior defender Anna DeLeon in the 89th minute.
The Gators led the Wildcats in total shots, 11-6, but the Cats gained the advantage in shots on goal, 4-3. Kentucky also owned a 3-1 edge in corner kicks on the afternoon.
Hear from the Gators:
Florida Head Coach Samantha Bohon
On Florida's performance today:
"We executed our game plan really well. I gotta give a shout out to our staff because we spent a lot of time going into this game really trying to figure out how best to maximize our opportunities. I think that you saw that in our possession and kind of control of the tempo. We got away from it a little bit in the second half in some bits, but Kentucky is a good team, so you're not going to be able to keep it for 90 minutes.
"I'm overall happy with the execution. Obviously we would love to have held them and gotten the elusive first SEC win but to get a point, we'll take it and move forward. We're still competing to win so we're still looking for that win.
"I thought we did a really good job of transition when we won the ball defensively. We did a much better job today of keeping it and then maintaining possession for a while. We've got to still tighten up our set pieces because we're getting too many chances to not get something out of it. Anna [DeLeon] just missed that that header in the last minute of regulation. Overall, just really happy with the effort, performance, heart, belief and execution of the game plan."
Florida senior Emily Yaple
On her goal:
"I'm blessed to say that I've scored a lot of collegiate goals in my career, some that have even made SportsCenter Top 10 and similar goals coming from that far out into the top corner.
"But the biggest thing for me today was the overwhelming support that I got from my teammates afterwards. That's never happened to me before. Fifteen minutes after I scored and came off the field [for halftime], I think every single girl on the team came up to me and told me how well I did, how awesome they felt for me and how awesome it was for the team. I just can't be more grateful for having the support that we have here."
On team's performance today:
"We had a tough loss against Tennessee last week. Coming into this game, we changed our formation and kind of worked on a few different tactics that we knew were going to be beneficial coming into this game to give us the result that we wanted. And even though we didn't get the result we exactly wanted, a point in the SEC is what we'll take right now. I thought we played well. I thought we possessed it a lot better than we did against Tennessee, which is great moving forward for us."
Florida: 4-3-3, 0-2-1 SEC
Kentucky: 6-0-4, 0-0-3 SEC
Series Record: Florida leads 25-5-5.
The Wildcats return to action this Friday to face defending SEC Champion Alabama at the Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex at 7:30 p.m. ET, airing SEC Network+.
Florida travels to Baton Rouge to face LSU, its first SEC Western Division opponent, at 7pm ET on Friday, airing on SEC Network+.