Florida’s soccer team had a disappointing 2018-19 campaign. The Gators made it to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2017 but finished with a losing record for the first time in program history last year.
UF also failed to reach the NCAA Tournament — a competition it has qualified for each of the last 15 years — following a 1-0 overtime defeat to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament semifinals.
Now, the Gators are preparing to make their 25th season as memorable as the ones that came before them. However, the loss of 11 seniors and one of the more challenging schedules in the country stands in their way.
Let’s take a look at the players who are set to make an impact this year.
Players to watch
Senior goalkeeper Susi Espinoza has big gloves to fill. She’ll replace Kaylan Marckese, who holds the program record for most career shutouts with 29.
Espinoza has only started in seven games during her three years at Florida, posting a 6-1 record and combining for 21 saves. The Wellington, Florida, native’s previous performances should instill confidence in coach Becky Burleigh and the defense at the start of the 2019-20 campaign.
Another player to watch is graduate transfer Vanessa Kara, who played three seasons at Drexel before redshirting in 2018.
Kara is a versatile attacker who can wreak havoc at both the midfield and forward positions. She was selected to the All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team in 2016 and 2017. In her freshman year, Kara set Drexel’s single season record for goals (11) and points (25), which was good enough to earn her CAA Rookie of the Year and Second Team honors.
Kara will need to replace the production left behind by former midfielder Lais Araujo, who finished second on the team in goals (5) and third in assists (4). Araujo’s 14 points were tied for most on the team with then-sophomore forward Madison Alexander (six goals, two assists).
Games to watch
The Gators will learn a lot about their team early on in the campaign.
After the season opener against Florida Atlantic on Friday, UF will play four straight opponents ranked in the preseason United Soccer Coaches Top 25 poll.
One of those contests includes a trip to Tallahassee to take on No. 1 Florida State. The Gators have lost the past two meetings against the Seminoles and were unable to find the back of the net in either match.
On Sept. 29, Florida goes on the road to face Vanderbilt, a team the Gators met twice last season.
The Commodores defeated UF 2-1 at home during the regular season, but Florida came away with a 1-0 upset victory in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UF coach Becky Burleigh knows her team is in for a challenging season with one of the hardest schedules in the nation.