The No. 9 Florida Gators soccer team (4-1) continues their season with a match against rival No. 5 Florida State (5-1) today at 7 p.m., at James G. Pressly Stadium.
Last weekend, the Gators took on Texas Tech, ending the match with a 3-0 win. The win wasn’t the only thing the Gators were celebrating as former Florida soccer teammates and World Cup players Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts cheered on the Gators during the game, and signed autographs afterward.
Freshman Taylor Burke was grateful to have been able to sit down and talk to Wambach and Mitts.
“I was definitely star struck when I first saw Abby Wambach,” she said. “We were just watching her on the world cup and now we get to see her face-to-face so it was definitely a great experience.”
Freshman Tessa Andujar also learned a lot from the former Gators.
“Mentality is a big part of their game, and getting mentally prepared for a game is a big deal,” she said. “Taking that from them is definitely going to help our team in general.”
Head coach Becky Burleigh was glad to have Wambach and Mitts back in Gainesville, even if it was only for a little while.
“Its funny, I think in a lot of ways they’re exactly the same as when they were here, but obviously their maturity level and their experiences have taken them to heights that they could probably only have imagined,” she said. “I think it was really exciting having them here. I think it was great for our current players to get a chance to interact with them. Who gets the chance to just sit down and talk to those two in conversation like that? It was a big deal.”
The Florida Gators have played two other top-20 teams this season, losing to then No. 15 UCLA, but snagging the W from then No. 18 Texas A&M. Florida State is the highest ranked team that the Gators have played yet, and this is the second year in a row that both teams are in the top-10 during their match.
Coach Burleigh has enjoyed the level of competition that has been played this early in the season.
“I think it’s great [to have 3 top teams so early in the season],” she said. “Any time we can play a good competition it’s great, and FSU kind of adds a little bit of a bonus with the instate rivalry. We just have a lot of respect for their program.”
When the rivals faced off last year in Tallahassee, the Seminoles were able to put the game into over time with a last-minute goal, bringing the score to 1-1. An impressive shot by McKenzie Barney after only 15 seconds of play in over time brought the Gators to victory.
This season, FSU has won matches against Oregon State, New Mexico, North Florida, Marquette, and UAB. The team’s only loss was to then No. 7 Portland.
Coach Burleigh hopes to improve the Gators’ level of defense in order to emerge victorious against the Seminoles.
“For one thing, I think we need to make sure that defensively individually we do our jobs, and as a team we do our job,” she said. “The first part is easy, it’s about you being focused and getting yourself ready to defend. The second part is more tactical, like understanding where you need to be position wise and things like that. So we’ll be working on both of those things more.”