Texas Tech Set For Challenge in Gainesville|
Haley Fowler and the Red Raiders are confident heading into their biggest test of the season.
August 31, 2011
by Britton Drown
This is the type of game that head coach Tom Stone wants his team to play in. In an early chapter of the season, and it's certainly a test.
Now five years into his tenure at Texas Tech, Stone feels it's something his team needs--and more than anything belongs in.
His squad has completed a four-match homestand to open the season with an impressive 3-1 record including three shutouts with a 2-0 victory over St. Mary's on Sunday.
"It's good," Stone said Wednesday morning after practice. "I think it's fun to go on the road."
If facing the No. 13 team in the nation inside a stadium known for its hostility is what Stone classifies as fun, then his team should be in for quite the eventful trip.
Is it too big of a challenge too early in the season?
Stone certainly doesn't think so.
"You have got to play top level teams to know where that next level is," Stone said. "The environment of Florida will be nuts. We're happy to be in that environment."
Friday night's match will mark Florida's home opener after the Gators (3-1) spent the first two weeks of their season on the road. Highlighting the season-opening road trip was a 3-2 win over then-No. 18 Texas A&M, a victory that came in the last 15 seconds of the match.
After the long road trip, there's little doubt the Gators will be relieved to be home.
"We are very fired up to be at home," Florida head coach Becky Burleigh said on Monday at the team's press conference. "I can't remember the last time I was this excited to be at home."
It will certainly be a challenging environment for Texas Tech to enter, but this Red Raider squad has built a considerable amount of both confidence and momentum of their own through the first two weeks of play--something that Stone hopes they carry with them on their trip east.
"It's going to be a true test for us to show our abilities and to just hopefully take on one of the top teams in the nation," sophomore midfielder Hayley Haagsma said. "It's only going to help our mentality going [forward] in this preseason journey."
Friday's match against the Gators represents the growth of his program since Stone's arrival in 2007. Since then, the Red Raiders have consistently made steady progress in regaining their place among the elite in college soccer.
When Stone arrived in Lubbock, he quickly ended a seven-year drought and has taken the Red Raiders to four consecutive Big 12 conference tournaments.
"We couldn't have got these games [scheduled] three years ago." Stone said. "These teams wouldn't have played us. But now, scheduling is big part of it and playing a top team is a great opportunity to develop and grow, and we are going down there to compete. We are not going down there to give Florida a game, we are going down there to compete to win."
The Red Raiders will look to take that confidence built at home during the last two weeks into Gainesville, and prove that this squad can indeed compete with the top soccer programs in the country.
"Just to have a 3-1 record heading into this and coming off of such a great win on Sunday," Haagsma said. "We have our heads up high and we are ready to take them on."