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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Seniors class leaves impressive legacy for UF soccer team

<p>Meggie Dougherty Howard shoots the ball during Florida's 6-0 win over Alabama on Oct. 20, 2016, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.</p>

Meggie Dougherty Howard shoots the ball during Florida's 6-0 win over Alabama on Oct. 20, 2016, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

As time expired at Dizney Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Gators saw their hopes of an NCAA title evaporate at the hands of Auburn, which defeated Florida 3-1.

Florida’s eight seniors also saw their careers in Gainesville come to a close.

It was a bitter moment for a team that had NCAA title aspirations.

“Nobody wanted to leave the field,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said Monday, fighting back tears. “I think that just shows the connection of that team and the influence that those seniors had. … I’m just going to really miss this senior class because it is a really special group.”

In their time at Florida, the eight seniors went on a journey and grew as people and as players, leaving their mark on a program that has produced some of the most accomplished soccer players in the country.

They made four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances and claimed two Southeastern Conference regular-season titles and two SEC Tournament titles.

“For me it’s really hard to put into words. This place has been my home for the last four years,” All-American forward Savannah Jordan said after the loss to Auburn. “And it flies by. But it’s meant the world to me, and I’ve appreciated everything this program has done for me and our team.”

Jordan leaves Florida having scored 81 career goals, the second-most in program history behind Abby Wambach (96).

Teammate Meggie Dougherty Howard also leaves the program on a high note.

The midfielder scored eight goals this season, more than her first three years combined.

She was also named the SEC Tournament MVP and made the All-SEC First Team for the first time in her career.

“I think all of us have grown so much as players and people, way more so than coming in we even thought was possible,” Dougherty Howard said. “It flies by, but this university and this program is something special. It just gives you so many opportunities and so much love and support that I don’t think you get everywhere.”

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And while the loss of these accomplished seniors leaves a huge void to fill, Burleigh is confident the rest of her team will step up to the challenge.

“We have a lot of talent coming back,” Burleigh said. “I’m really really optimistic about where we are. Not only from a talent perspective but just from a mentality perspective, and what we are trying to build and continue to build. I’m really excited for the future.”

Contact Lauren Staff at lstaff@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @lstaff27.

Meggie Dougherty Howard shoots the ball during Florida's 6-0 win over Alabama on Oct. 20, 2016, at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.

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