Last weekend Florida’s soccer team made its first road trip and got a wakeup call from Illinois, which knocked off the No. 9 Gators, 1-0, a loss that probably will bump UF from the nation’s top 10.
“We played one of our poorer games in recent memory,” Florida coach Becky Burleigh said. “A lot of that was Illinois. They came out really hard. We never really adjusted too well and were on our heels most of the match. One of our bright spots was the play of our goal keeper, but it’s really never a bright spot when your goal keeper is your bright spot. It means you’re probably getting pounded, which we were. It was disappointing to lose, but honestly we didn’t deserve to win the game. I think our team took a lot of lessons from that game.”
Two days later, the Gators rebounded, defeating Drake, 2-0.
“On Sunday we were able to turn it around in a difficult environment,” Burleigh said “We played on field turf, which is a first. And the field surface in soccer means a lot more than in other sports, because the ball’s on the ground a lot. Our team adjusted pretty well to that and scored two goals and probably should have had more.”
Next up is Florida Atlantic on Friday. After that, the Gators go on the road for games at Nebraska, Georgia and Tennessee.
“It’s a split weekend. It’s a little strange, because we play at home, then travel Saturday to play on Sunday a team that we don’t play that often,” Burleigh said. “Nebraska’s already played two teams in the SEC, so I feel like they’ve joined the SEC this year. They played Georgia and Tennessee and lost, but they were really close matches. We expect that to be a good match, and then FAU, always has a contingency of foreign players that makes them more of a puzzle than most teams we play. That makes them dangerous, so it will be two very different teams, but two good challenges, I think.”
The Gators are led by Ashley Harris, who has scored a team–high four goals; and KeLeigh Hudson, who has tallied three goals and three assists for the 4-2 club.
“Ashley’s a really, really tenacious player,” Burleigh said. “All of our coaches and players are like, ‘We’re glad she plays for us, because she’s hard to play against.’ Everyone talks about her speed, but what’s more important about her is she is willing to go after any ball in the box. If she has to sacrifice her body to score, she will. That’s the mentality you have to have to score goals and that’s why she’s scoring.”
When Harris and the rest of the UF squad are not playing or practicing, they’re probably watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Two Florida alumnae, Abby Wambach of the United States; and Melanie Booth of Canada are playing in soccer’s glamour event. Wambach completed her collegiate career in 2001. Booth has played three seasons with the Gators and will re-join her teammates within a few weeks, but has provided motivation from afar.
“I think (the players) have drawn a lot of inspiration from watching the other teams play as well as some of the individual performances,” Burleigh said. “Of course, we have little rivalries going on on our team. We have an Australian player on our team. She cheers for them. Our strength and conditioning coach for some reason is a big Germany fan. And of course, Canada and the U.S. are the favorites on our team. Abby is one of the most dangerous players in the world. Talk about not wanting to play against somebody. She can just take a team on her shoulders. She’s done a lot of that in the World Cup. That’s going to continue to happen as this team continues to progress through the World Cup. She’s scoring goals and doing stuff we all knew she was capable of doing. Now she’s doing that on the biggest stage there is, which is the World Cup.”
Florida has won more than 97 percent of its Southeastern Conference matches since coach Mary Wise arrived in 1991. The Gators, in fact, have lost just eight league matches in the past 16 seasons. However, as sixth-ranked UF (9-0) prepares for four consecutive road matches – Ole Miss and Louisiana State; and Mississippi State and Alabama – over the next two weekends, Wise stressed that the Gators’ volleyball dominance is history – nothing more.
“There was a time in this league where there was a gap in the talent we put on the floor and the talent from some of the other teams,” Wise said. “It wasn’t as hard to win on the road. Things have changed. When you’re getting seven teams in the NCAA tournament and as much parity as there is and all the quality coaching that’s going on, there are a lot of great players in this league. We will never take wins for granted and we know how difficult it is to win on the road.”
Florida returns home Friday, Oct. 5 when Kentucky visits the O’Connell Center.
On the strength of its performance at the season-opening Mason Rudolph Women’s Championship in Nashville last weekend, the Florida women’s golf team moved from 13th to fifth in the latest rankings released by Golfweek. The Lady Gators registered their lowest ever score under 10th-year coach Jill Briles-Hinton and tied the third-lowest round in school history with a 3-under par 285 in the first round.
Individually, Sandra Gal (Leichlingen, Germany) is ranked 20th after a 15th-place performance and true freshman Jessica Yadloczky (Casselberry) comes in at 27th. Gal carried a 73-14-2 record against the 17-team field and Yadloczky was 71-17-1 in her UF debut. Seniors Whitney Myers (East Berlin, Pa.) and Tiffany Chudy (Miramar) are ranked 53rd and 65th.
Fifth-ranked Florida returns to action Sept. 29-Oct. 1 when it heads to the Lady Wildcat Invitational at the University of Kentucky.