By Jim Harvin
The Florida soccer team again kicks off the school’s athletic season when the Gators take on Florida Atlantic tonight at 7 in Boca Raton.
Despite the loss of a strong 2016 senior class led by multiple All-American Savannah Jordan, UF was picked to win the 2017 Southeastern Conference title in a preseason vote of the league’s coaches earlier this week.
“Obviously it’s always tough to see people go, but I think that this group has kind of come in with a renewed energy,” coach Becky Burleigh said. “It’s been a lot of fun in preseason, which is not necessarily a word you always associate with preseason. But I think a lot of that is because of their attitude and the effort that they have put into it.”
Redshirt senior Gabby Seiler, a first-team selection for both the National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-South Region and All-SEC teams, will help lead the way.
Seiler, who transferred to UF in 2015 and sat out that year after playing her first two seasons at Georgia, can play multiple positions. She started every match in 2016 for the Gators and has been named to the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy Watch List for the second consecutive season.
“After losing such a big senior class, we didn’t know how preseason was going to go,” Seiler said. “But the level of intensity at practice has been super awesome. I think that has a lot to do with us being anxious and ready to get out there.
“We had an exhibition and it went well (a 3-2 win over Mississippi State), and we have continued to improve over the preseason.”
This marks year No. 23 at UF for Burleigh, who has guided the program since its inception.
Florida, which leads the SEC with 14 regular-season titles and 12 tournament crowns, is coming off a 17-5-1 season and third-place league finish.
UF won last year’s SEC tournament title and reached the NCAA Round of 16 before falling to Auburn.
In addition, Florida, ranked No. 7 nationally, is one of four SEC teams in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll. UF is joined by No. 4 South Carolina, No. 10 Auburn and No. 17 Arkansas.
Junior goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese is nursing a hand injury and will likely not play this weekend as a precaution. Otherwise, Florida appears healthy.
“We just finished up preseason and it went really well,” said redshirt senior Kristen Cardano, a second-team All-SEC selection who has been a mainstay at defender the past two years for UF.
“We have five new freshmen and two transfers, and it looks really good. We all work really well together.”
Longtime assistants Vic Campbell and Alan Kirkup return as does second-year volunteer assistant John Roman. Both Campbell and Kirkup also hold the title of associate head coach.
The Gators return to James G. Pressly Stadium to face Troy in their home opener Sunday at 1 p.m. Admission is free for all regular-season home matches.
Who: No. 7 Florida vs. Florida Atlantic
When: 7 p.m.
Where: FAU Stadium in Boca Raton
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM