For the No. 7 Gators, tonight’s matchup is a return to normalcy.
For the third consecutive year, Florida is part of the first SEC soccer game of the conference schedule. The Gators take on an undefeated Ole Miss squad at 7 p.m. at James G. Pressly Stadium. The Rebels have allowed a paltry 0.13 goals per game, having given up one goal all season against Michigan in a 1-1 draw in Oxford, Mississippi.
This year also marked the second consecutive season that Florida’s annual matchup against Florida State was canceled due to a hurricane.
For some Gators, however, simply getting back onto the practice field after Hurricane Irma passed by Gainesville is a relief.
“We’re excited to come back,” junior forward Melanie Monteagudo said. “We’re just ready to get back on the field and prepare for that game.”
Coach Becky Burleigh, who was without power in her home as of Tuesday afternoon’s practice, said getting back together with her team provided some much-needed time going over strategy and tactics.
“Obviously, the disruption of the hurricane has kind of changed our training schedule a good bit,” Burleigh said. “The thing we’re focusing on now is just trying to get back to routine… but that’s tough because it gives us basically two practice sessions before we start SEC play.”
Burleigh said since not all of her players live on campus, many on the team were at home making sure their families were safe over the weekend.
“Everybody checked in with us, and everybody said things were good,” Burleigh said. “There’s still some of our players that don’t have power at the moment.”
Regardless of missed games and practice time, some of Monteagudo’s teammates were relieved to be able to spend some time away from the pitch.
“I think, maybe, it could have been a blessing in disguise,” sophomore midfielder Parker Roberts said. “It gave us some time to rest and recover and just have some time off.”
Roberts, a transfer from the University of Kansas, will be playing in the first SEC game of her career.
“I think it’ll be really exciting,” Roberts said. “Obviously, I played in the Big 12 before, so I’m excited to see the different styles of play and just the really good teams that we’re going to face.”
Roberts said the time spent away from the pitch also allowed her and her teammates to catch up with each other while watching film. But Roberts said taking their minds off of soccer was equally as important.
“We just told ourselves that we’re going to relax, not worry about soccer right now because we can’t go outside,” Roberts said. “We just watched movies and relaxed and hung out together.”
One of the movies that Roberts and some of her teammates watched, fittingly enough, was the Will Ferrell comedy “Kicking and Screaming,” a movie based on coaching youth soccer.
Tonight’s match will be the first UF athletic event held since Hurricane Irma left more than 12,000 in Gainesville without power, according to Gainesville Regional Utilities. For the Gators soccer team, that means going back to business as usual against the No. 24 Rebels.
Thursday marks UF’s first match at Pressly Stadium since its home opener. Donations of nonperishable food items, toiletries and clothing to help those most affected by the hurricane are encouraged and will be accepted at the entrance.