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Saturday, January 28, 2023

As the Gators begin their climb toward Southeastern Conference and national championships, the No. 13 UF soccer team is confident it has the leadership to reach such lofty goals.

The Gators feature eight returning seniors, all of whom ended the season with a bad taste in their mouth after tough losses in the SEC Championship Game and the Sweet Sixteen.

But as the Gators open their season against Indiana tonight at 7 p.m. and No. 2 Notre Dame on Sunday, they may look to the lone Gators player with championship experience for guidance.

Sophomore Lauren Hyde appears to be taking a leadership role after winning the US Youth Soccer Under-19 National Championship with her Carmel United Soccer Club team this summer.

For Hyde, the experience was invaluable.

"It was just a great experience," she said. "It was really good preparation. Some of these girls didn't get to play soccer the whole summer. But for me, I actually got to play soccer up until two weeks before I came back and that just helps with everything. Touch on the ball, more confidence because every time you go out and play you learn more."

Hyde's club team was in the position UF finds itself entering this season. Carmel United had been knocking on the door for several seasons and was hoping to break through this summer. Hyde believes the little things she?s picked up will carry over into this season.

She says there has been a marked improvement from last season to this season, but according to UF coach Becky Burleigh, the greatest change lies in her improved leadership skills.

Hyde was the only freshman to start every game last season, but being one of the younger players on the team, she had a tendency to lose confidence occasionally.

"It gave her a lot of confidence," Burleigh said. "It's the first time they had won a championship as a team, and she's certainly one of the leaders on that team. It put her into a leadership position, and it just gave her a lot of confidence coming into the season."

It was easy for Hyde to take a leadership role with Carmel United. The 18-year-old had played with some of the players for two or three years, making her one of the team's most experienced players. The question for the Gators was whether or not she'd exhibit that same growth in Gainesville.

"I think she's definitely speaking up more," Burleigh said. "As a freshman, it's hard to come in and speak up, but this year I've seen that from her. She's really confident and she's picking up where she left off in the spring and has a bit more added confidence from winning a championship this year."

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In the short term, Hyde's experience gives them an edge against this weekend's opponents. Indiana's Jessica Boots, Natalie O'Bryan, Kristin Arnold and Christie Kotynski, as well as Notre Dame's Rachel VanderGenugten, were Hyde's teammates this summer, and it seems some of her inside information may be making it on to UF's scouting reports.

"Well, we do all of our own scouting," Burleigh said. "But we'll also take whatever information we can get."

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