Florida soccer coach Becky Burleigh still has a plethora of weapons at her disposal this season despite losing 11 seniors, including four that started in the 1-0 overtime loss against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament semifinals that ended Florida’s 2018-19 campaign.
The arrival of 10 freshmen has infused the roster with young, promising talent, and the recovery of redshirt junior midfielder Parker Roberts from a foot fracture has uplifted the team.
Burleigh will rely heavily on the freshmen and Roberts on Friday night when the Gators take on Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Florida.
“I don’t think it’d be a surprise,” Burleigh said when asked if any freshmen would start the season opener. “I think there will be a lot of freshmen who will contribute a lot of minutes.”
Roberts has been impressed by the newcomers and the way that they have handled themselves both on and off the field.
“Oh, they’re great. I feel like they’re not even freshmen,” Burleigh said. “It’s so crazy. I’m like, ‘I feel like you guys have been here for so long.’”
The team has also benefited from the return of Roberts, who had her 2018-19 campaign cut short after undergoing surgery on her fractured foot last September. She started in every game in 2017, playing just over 2,000 minutes and recording three goals and one assist.
“Parker (Roberts) is like the Energizer Bunny on the field,” Burleigh said. “She is somebody who just brings it every day in practice, every day in games.”
Roberts will make her return to the pitch against FAU and feels healthy enough to make an impact when the first whistle blows on Friday night.
“I feel the best that I have felt in two years,” Roberts said. “Sometimes I feel like I need to settle down because I just want to go everywhere and do everything.”
The 2017 All-SEC First Team selection was nominated as one of the team’s co-captains last season. However, the Gators have adopted a different approach this year.
“We’ve actually decided to not have captains this year. We’re going to have captains each game,” Burleigh said. “I just think we’re getting leadership contributions from a variety of places.”
One of those places is from the team’s 10-player freshman class — a group of players that carry themselves as anything but.
“Sometimes freshmen might be a little bit weary and scared to say something to upperclassmen,” senior defender Julia Lester said. “But really, since the very beginning, they’ve been pushing hard and pushing us hard, too.”
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Redshirt junior midfielder Parker Roberts missed most of last season with a foot fracture. She's expected to play a key role on the Gators' team this fall. Roberts earned First Team All-SEC honors in 2017.