Solaun builds on experience abroad


Florida junior midfielder Havana Solaun spent her spring playing in Spain, an experience that coach Becky Burleigh believes will be invaluable heading into the Gators' season.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.

As good as she has been her first two years at Florida — and she has been very good — the best is yet to come for UF junior Havana Solaun.

Facts

Friday's game

Who: Florida Gulf Coast at No. 9 Florida
When: 7 p.m.
Where: James G. Pressly Stadium
Radio: AM-850

After earning Southeastern Conference All-Freshman honors in 2011, Solaun, a former Buchholz High School standout who was a three-time, first-team All-Area pick of the Sun, started all but one match as a sophomore last season and finished second on the team in scoring to two-time All-American and 2012 SEC Offensive Player of the Year Erika Tymrak.

Now, following a spring in which she gained some valuable international experience playing in Spain with the U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team, Solaun is poised to step into the spotlight.

“That was just an amazing experience in Spain, being surrounded by so many great players and great coaches,” Solaun said. “It was nice to represent the Gators and have such a great experience.

“It definitely helped build my confidence, but the main thing is you learn a lot. It was such a diverse group of players from colleges all across the country, and that really helps widen your view on the game.”

UF coach Becky Burleigh is well aware of the potential benefits.

“That’s hard, to go into a brand new environment with a team at an event in a foreign country, but I thought Havana handled it really well,” she said. “It was a terrific experience, and we’re looking for her to carry that forward with us this year.”

The Gators graduated a stellar, five-member senior class from last year's SEC Championship squad, four of whom (Tymrak, Kathryn Williamson, Holly King and Jo Dragotta) were selected in the first three rounds of the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League professional draft.

“Havana is sort of a quiet leader by example, and I think she will probably play a bigger role with some of those personalities gone,” Burleigh said. “But she’s still going to do it in her style, and I think our team really appreciates the way that she leads.”

A strong and disciplined work ethic, dating back to her middle school and high school days when Solaun had daily chores that included milking the cows on the family farm outside of town, have definitely paid dividends.

“I think that the farm taught me so many things that carry over to soccer and just to life in general,” Solaun said. “When I was going through it, it was so tedious, and I hated getting up so early every morning. But the lessons that I learned, I’ll carry those with me throughout my whole life.

“You learn about responsibility. You have to wake up in the morning and go do your chores because everybody relies on you, and learning those lessons has definitely contributed to my success.”

This is one success story that seems destined for lofty heights.

“Havana just keeps emerging more and more,” Burleigh said. “I mean, this preseason has been by far her best. I think she is gaining confidence, and she also is realizing how good she is. She is really a class player, and I think people are going to see that this season.”

Solaun and her UF teammates, ranked No. 9 nationally in the preseason, open the regular season at 7 p.m. Friday at home against Florida Gulf Coast.

“I am very excited about the team this year,” Solaun said. “We’re a young team and we lost a huge senior class, but so many people are stepping up. I think it’s going to be a really good season.”

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