By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
The 2019 season marks the silver anniversary of Florida women’s soccer.
In the 24 past seasons at the helm, head coach Becky Burleigh, 51, has led the Gators to an NCAA Championship, two NCAA College Cup appearances, 14 Southeastern Conference titles and 21 NCAA Championships berths.
Along the way, she has picked up national (1998) and SEC Coach of the Year (2012, ‘10, ‘08, ‘00 and ’96) honors, and her career winning percentage of .759 (496-143-42) ranks No. 4 among the NCAA Division I active coaches.
All that in addition to leading Berry College in Rome, Ga., to a pair of NAIA national titles (1990, 1993) during a five-year stint there before coming to UF.
The Gators, however, are coming off a 7-10-4 season, the first losing season for Burleigh and one of only two times Florida has failed to post a winning record (2002, 10-10-2) in her tenure.
Safe to say UF’s 30-player roster, which includes 10 freshmen, is a focused group.
“All the returning players went through last year, and that was a difficult process,” Burleigh said. “That really left an impression upon everybody that we wanted to make some changes. I think that over the summer and through preseason, the returning players have done that.
“To the credit of the new players, they’ve been really easy to integrate. They’ve been very open-minded and come in with a curiosity to learn, and the older players have really helped that out.”
They’ll need to maintain that focus with their first five matches all on the road. UF’s schedule is ranked the toughest in the nation.
“Everybody has a strong head on their shoulders and a good mindset,” senior defender Julia Lester said. “Ever since Summer B we’ve really gelled well together, and obviously the chemistry off the field helps us on the field. This next season is going to be something special.”
On the pitch, UF welcomes back redshirt junior midfielder Parker Roberts, who was a co-captain in 2018 for the first six matches but suffered a fractured foot and missed the rest of the year.
“I am so anxious,” Roberts said. “It’s all I’ve been thinking about for the longest time. I think everyone is just ready.”
Florida, which dropped a 3-2 exhibition decision at No. 23 Wake Forest last Saturday, opens the regular season with road matches at FAU today in Boca Raton and at No.18 USF Sunday (6 p.m.) in Tampa.
That will be followed by a West Coast trip with matches at USC Aug. 29 and at UCLA Sept. 1., before traveling to face FSU on Friday, Sept. 6.
UF will make its home debut Sunday, Sept. 8, against UCF before hosting FGCU and Miami on Sept. 12 and Sept. 15, respectively.
SEC competition kicks off the following week with a Sept. 18 road match at LSU, the first of 10 consecutive league matches to finish the regular season. The SEC Tournament will be held Nov. 3-10 at Orange Beach, Ala.
Burleigh will again be joined by associate head coaches Vic Campbell (25th season) and Alan Kirkup (14th season) as well as volunteer coach John Roman (fourth season).
“We have a lot of experience and a lot of leadership, but we also have this like youthful enthusiasm of people going through it for the first time,” Burleigh noted. “It’s kind of been a great combination.”
Who: Florida at Florida Atlantic
When: 7 p.m. today
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM