Florida embarks on milestone 20th season
Published: Friday, August 22, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 22, 2014 at 12:02 a.m.
Considering this season marks the 20th anniversary for the Florida soccer program, it is already something of a landmark.
Miami at Florida, 7 p.m., Pressly Stadium.
With a 25-player roster that features 11 returning starters and 12 of UF's top 13 point-scorers from last year's 18-5-1 team, the 2014 campaign could also prove to be a memorable one.
After posting exhibition wins over FIU (5-2) and Baylor (2-0) last week, things officially begin on Friday at 7 when Miami visits Pressly Stadium.
“I definitely think this could be a special year for us,” said sophomore forward Savannah Jordan, UF's top scorer and the 2013 SEC Offensive Player of the Year who just returned from competing with the U.S. Under-20 National Team at the FIFA U20 World Cup.
“I was very proud of my team for opening the season with two big wins to get us on the right track. I'm definitely excited that I didn't miss too much and could get back and play with everyone.”
Jordan is one of three returning first-team All-SEC selections, joining senior midfielder Havana Solaun and junior defender Christen Westphal — all of whom also garnered National Soccer Coaches Association of America first-team All-South Region honors.
In addition, Jordan and Westphal were both second-team NSCAA All-Americans, with Jordan adding National Freshman of the Year kudos from both Soccer America and TopDrawerSoccer.com.
Friday marks the official return of Solaun, UF's top playmaker and team leader who had her junior campaign cut short by a torn ACL (right knee) suffered in the 2013 SEC tournament final.
The former Buchholz standout started in both exhibition wins and looked solid in her first action in nine months.
“I'm getting there,” Solaun said. “I feel good and feel strong. It's just a matter of getting used to playing again.”
This year's roster not only boasts balance at every position, but class-wise as well, with 13 upperclassmen (seniors and juniors) joined by 12 sophomores and freshmen.
UF holds down the No. 8 spot in the NSCAA preseason poll and was picked to win the SEC title by the league's coaches after sharing the 2013 crown with Texas A&M — Florida's league-leading 13th title.
“I think we are a pretty deep team and have a lot of experience, but at the same time, we have a lot of enthusiasm with the newcomers that is really going to buoy us when we need it,” said coach Becky Burleigh, who has led the program since its inception.
“It's a great team atmosphere entering the season. I think everyone is just really committed and really buying into all the things that we are doing.”
The Gators face a challenging, road-heavy schedule that includes their first trips to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and New Mexico, an early showdown at 2013 NCAA runner-up Florida State (Sept. 5), a game at Stanford (Sept. 12) and the SEC opener at Alabama (Sept. 19).
UF, which has just seven home games, will play its only two Sunday home contests at the Donald R. Dizney Lacrosse Stadium, the first against USF this Sunday at 1 p.m.
Playing there creates postseason options for the Gators, as by NCAA rule, a team must play at least two regular-season matches at a venue to have that site eligible for postseason play.
Let the games begin.
“We had some people out in the spring,” Burleigh said. “We didn't have Pam (Begic) because of basketball, Annie (Speese) and Havana were both out, and some other people missed some time as well. Having the complete team back is really nice.”