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Thursday, May 23, 2024

UF soccer looks ahead to Spring after NCAA Tourney exit

<p>UF coach Becky Burleigh celebrates with her team follow a 4-0 win against Arkansas on Oct. 25, 2015, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.</p>

UF coach Becky Burleigh celebrates with her team follow a 4-0 win against Arkansas on Oct. 25, 2015, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

The Florida soccer team has mixed emotions after its season came to an abrupt end on Sunday.

The No. 5 Gators lost 2-1 in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament to the No. 20 Duke Blue Devils.

Coach Becky Burleigh praised the three-player senior class, made up of midfielder Lauren Smith and defenders Claire Falknor and Christen Westphal, for having a large role in changing the program and thanked them for their contributions.

Burleigh said the emotions from the loss didn’t come with the result of the game, but rather from knowing that it would be the last time that specific team would play together.

And the last time the three seniors would don a Florida uniform.

"The hardest part of yesterday (Sunday) is knowing that that is the last time that team will be together as a group," Burleigh said. "That’s the last time that team exists.

"Then the best part of it is that we have a really great group returning and we have a new class that will add to it and we get to start over but it’s sort of bittersweet."

Throughout the season, Burleigh wanted her team to focus on progress. They did just that.

The Gators (19-4-1, 8-2-1 Southeastern Conference) hadn’t lost a game since Sept. 27 leading up to Sunday’s loss to Duke.

Burleigh said the expectations for this year’s team got higher as the season pushed on.

The Gators won the SEC regular season title and the SEC tournament this season and were eyeing their second straight appearance in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, but when that result failed to come to fruition, the team was emotional.

Following the loss to the Blue Devils (13-5-4, 4-3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), Westphal and other players were visibly upset due to the lucid fact that this was the end of the line for this group that Burleigh said connected naturally.

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"I think it’s not so much emotional about the game itself, it’s just that this team had a really authentic connection to one another," Burleigh said. "Some teams you kind of have to make that happen, with this team it was really easy.

"I think when you realize that all that you put into the season and all that you put in with that connection, with that group of people and just like that, it’s done. That’s what makes it emotional."

The Gators lose the three seniors to graduation and will become a different team opening up the Spring semester.

Burleigh expects new players to step up and the entire feel of the team to be different.

"When we get back we’ll start to reorganize and talk about what our Spring is going to look like and again that’s the bittersweet part of it, it’s a new team at that point," Burleigh said. "When you take those three seniors out of the mix it’s definitely a new team.

"New people will emerge as leaders and we’ll have a whole new dynamic when the freshmen come in the summer, but certainly we have a great starting point thanks to the three seniors."

Follow Ryan Summers on Twitter @RyanSummers18

UF coach Becky Burleigh celebrates with her team follow a 4-0 win against Arkansas on Oct. 25, 2015, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

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