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Saturday, April 20, 2024
<p>Susi Espinoza</p>

Susi Espinoza

When former goalie Kaylan Marckese left for the National Women’s Soccer League, coach Becky Burleigh faced a tough decision heading into the 2019-20 campaign.

Burleigh had to choose among freshman Francesca Faraci, junior Ashley Pietra and redshirt junior Susi Espinoza to replace Marckese, who set the program record for career shutouts (29) and complete matches played (74). 

The 25th-year UF coach ultimately went with Espinoza to fill the void in net, and the goalie showed that she belonged in the starting lineup after an eight-save performance led the Gators to a 2-0 road victory over then-No. 18 South Florida in the second fixture of the season.

Florida’s soccer team will need a similar outing from Espinoza in Friday night’s rematch against the 17th-ranked Bulls at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. The stakes are higher this time around, however, as UF must win to advance to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament and keep its national championship aspirations alive.

“That game feels like it was a year ago because it was so early in the season,” Burleigh said. “I know we have definitely developed as a team, just as I’m sure USF has, as well. We expect it to be a super competitive match as is every match we play with them.”

Despite falling 3-1 to top-seeded Arkansas in the SEC Tournament semifinals last Thursday, the Gators earned one of the 33 at-large berths for the NCAA Tournament.

Florida’s inefficient offense was its downfall against the Razorbacks.

UF registered 20 shots — with nine of those hitting the target — but found the back of the net only once. Its lone goal didn’t come in the run of play either. It came on a penalty kick from forward Vanessa Kara in the 63rd minute after midfielder Sammie Betters was fouled inside the box.

After finishing the regular season on a six-game scoring drought, Kara has recorded a goal in each of Florida’s two postseason matchups.

The Drexel transfer has a team-high 10 goals in her first year at UF, which is four more than the team’s leading goalscorer (forward Madison Alexander) in 2018. 

Kara did not have the opportunity to compete for the national title in her four seasons with the Dragons but she does now with the Gators.

“It’s been a goal of mine since I was a little kid growing up,” the senior forward said. “For us to have made it and get a bid is really exciting.”

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Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at bmatamoros@alligator.org

Susi Espinoza

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