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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

UF soccer building team chemistry with unusual methods

<p>UF soccer coach Becky Burleigh puts her arm around defender Rachelle Smith (81) following Florida's 3-2 win against Florida Sate on Aug. 30, 2015, at James G. Pressly Stadium.</p>

UF soccer coach Becky Burleigh puts her arm around defender Rachelle Smith (81) following Florida's 3-2 win against Florida Sate on Aug. 30, 2015, at James G. Pressly Stadium.

Six matches into her 22nd season at the helm of Florida soccer, coach Becky Burleigh continues to preach the importance of a team-first mentality.

It’s a mantra that’s allowed the 48-year-old to build one of the top coaching resumes in all of Division I women’s soccer, and it has been a key to the No. 5 Gators’ (5-1) early season success.

UF boasts one of the top offenses in the Southeastern Conference behind a selfless scoring attack that ranks first in both points per game (10) and assists per game (three).

Florida has also seen seven different players score goals this fall, and that balanced distribution is not a coincidence.

Burleigh has repeatedly worked with her players on developing chemistry and support with one another, such as the rock-paper-scissors tournament she held at a practice several days before their Sept. 4 win against Oklahoma State.

“Everybody was paired up, and if you won, then you moved on, and if you lost, then you had to support the person that beat you,” Burleigh said. “The whole point of that was we wanted to be able to continue to support one another throughout this whole season. … If we keep that mentality, then I think this team can do some really cool things.”

One player who has excelled at getting her teammates involved this year is senior Savannah Jordan.

The three-time All-American has tallied seven assists in her final campaign as a Gator, already matching her total from 2015 despite playing in 18 fewer matches.

Normally known for her scoring prowess, Jordan has displayed a willingness to spread the ball around this fall, and that has earned her praise from her head coach.

“I think that the attention that she gets from the other teams has really freed up some other players on our team,” Burleigh said. “Credit to Savannah for taking advantage of that and being able to utilize the people around her.”

Burleigh will need another big performance from Jordan and the rest of her players this Friday when they travel to Fayetteville to face No. 25 Arkansas at 8 p.m.

The Razorbacks (7-1) are undefeated at home this season and rank second behind UF in goals per game (2.88) in the SEC.

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“Never an easy match,” Burleigh said. “They’re really well coached. They play very differently than us, so it’s definitely a contrast in styles.”

Contact Dylan Dixon at ddixon@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.

UF soccer coach Becky Burleigh puts her arm around defender Rachelle Smith (81) following Florida's 3-2 win against Florida Sate on Aug. 30, 2015, at James G. Pressly Stadium.

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