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Monday, June 24, 2024

When Melanie Booth finally returned to the UF soccer team, the last thing she expected to receive was a standing ovation.

Booth, who spent the past year training with the Canadian national team, traveled from the World Cup in China to Omaha, Neb., where the No. 15 Gators were preparing for Sunday's match against Nebraska. And when UF's bus pulled up to a hotel to pick up the redshirt senior, the reunion could only be described as joyful.

The Gators stood up and chanted Booth's name as she boarded the bus, and although appreciating the gesture she admits she was a bit overwhelmed.

"I don't like being the center of attention, so it's kind of embarrassing," she said. "But I was definitely happy to be back."

After an intense year abroad and a grueling flight back to the U.S., Booth was given the opportunity by UF coach Becky Burleigh to take the weekend off and work herself into shape with a week of practice.

Booth would have none of that.

She made her season debut Sunday against the Cornhuskers, playing 64 minutes in a 1-1 tie.

"She wanted to meet us in Nebraska," Burleigh said. "She's all about our team. It would have been easy taking this weekend off, and no one would have said a thing. But she played, and I let her tell me when she needed to come out. Right now, I think we need to work on her fitness a little bit and get her to where she was before she left."

Booth's World Cup run was brought to an end when Australia eliminated Canada from the competition with a 2-2 tie last Thursday. Despite receiving limited playing time with the national team, Booth feels that the past year was invaluable.

"I'll be able to tell more when I start playing more," Booth said. "But the [international] game is so much faster and you get punished for mistakes you make a lot more, so you can't afford to make them."

With the Gators opening Southeastern Conference play Friday against Georgia, Booth's goal is to regain the type of conditioning necessary in the SEC.

Until Booth and Burleigh feel the defender has returned to that point, her playing time could be erratic.

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"Playing time is going to depend on her recovery," Burleigh said. "Whether it's from the travel or from the routine, but I can tell you she wants to play and she's excited about being back on our team, and we're excited about having her back."

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