Coming off its first Elite Eight appearance in three years, the UF soccer team is showing no signs of slowing down heading into the 2018 season.
Coupled with the return of 10 starters from last year, 24th-year coach Becky Burleigh recruited five decorated freshmen to bolster her team’s roster. The strong combination of youth and experience will look to bring Florida its first national championship since 1998.
Headlining the No. 7 Gators roster is sophomore forward Deanne Rose. The Canadian international had a sparkling campaign as a freshman last year, leading the team with nine goals and 21 points, earning First Team All-SEC and SEC Freshman of the Year accolades along the way.
Rose enters the season on the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List, which is annually awarded to the nation’s top soccer player. In addition to her skill on the pitch, Rose has been heralded by Burleigh for having maturity beyond her years.
"She's a great teammate,” Burleigh said in a release last season. “Very easy to play with and communicate with."
There is a wealth of talent linking up with Rose on the attacking side of the ball. Senior midfielders Mayra Pelayo and Sarah Troccoli each netted four goals last season – the third-highest total on the team. Another midfielder, redshirt junior Parker Roberts, returns after an All-SEC campaign playing both midfielder and defender.
Senior Rachelle Smith, Second Team All-SEC last year, anchors Florida’s defense. Smith, who was joined on the All-SEC roster by defender Kristen Cardano, led the Gators with an average of 89.2 minutes played per match last year. With Cardano graduated, Smith figures to be a mainstay in Florida’s back line once again.
The departure that will be felt the most by Florida is that of midfielder Gabby Seiler. Seiler, who now plays for the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League, was second on the team last year with six goals. She racked up 17 goals over her collegiate career and garnered numerous accolades, including three First Team All-SEC nods and All-American honors last year.
Her role could be replaced by a number of incoming freshmen. Burleigh has five of them coming in this season, including three forwards – Cassidy Lindley, Mary Peace and Samantha Tobar. The fresh faces on defense include Taylor Baksay and Georgia Eaton-Collins, who has experience with the English national team at the youth level.
Burleigh also added redshirt sophomore midfielder Carina Baltrip-Reyes as a transfer from Florida International.
Florida’s regular-season schedule consists of 18 matches, 10 of which are against SEC opponents. The non-conference schedule is not devoid of intriguing matchups, and includes dates with in-state rivals FSU, FAU and UCF.
In addition, two Pac-12 powerhouses will visit Gainesville – Southern California, the 2016 national champion, and UCLA, the 2017 national runner-up.
One date of particular interest is the Oct. 7 clash with South Carolina. UF lost both its matchups with the Gamecock. The second defeat came in the Elite Eight. The Gators failed to score in both games last year and should have extra motivation to steal a win in Columbia.
Florida begins its season at home on Friday against Washington. Of note, Florida will play all 10 home games this year at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. Previously, games were split between Dizney Stadium and James G. Pressly Stadium.
After making an exit in the Elite Eight last season, the UF soccer team enters 2018 as the No. 7 team in the nation.