Florida soccer was in desperate need of joy.
In the past year, the program withstood coaching changes, controversy and poor results. This season, things got off to a rocky start after the Gators suffered a 3-0 loss at the hands of neighbor Central Florida to open its 2022 season last Thursday.
That glorifying sensation of victory finally came Sunday when the Gators dominated Stetson 3-0, earning their first win of the season. Seconds after the final whistle, several players ran to head coach Samantha Bohon and doused her in a celebratory water shower.
Her first win as Florida’s leader was a joyful moment.
“I feel so close to this team already. They have really just bought into what we're trying to do,” Bohon said. “I'm just really thrilled to have this victory for them, more so than me. It's fun when the team gets to celebrate things like this.”
The win represents a new beginning for the Gators, who were coming off their worst season in program history. Last year, Florida finished 4-12-4 with a lackluster 3-6-1 record in Southeastern Conference Play. After dropping four of its first five matches, the team struggled to find momentum and never chained more than two wins in a row.
Although the Gators struggled at home, losing six out of 10 matches at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, the team still finished 10th in the SEC standings and reached the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
However, the poor results on the pitch weren’t the only issues tormenting the Gators.
On April 27, former head coach Tony Amato was dismissed after a WUFT News report detailed complaints from current and former players about Amato’s comments on their eating habits and bodies. The Gators also lost 12 players to the transfer portal during the offseason.
According to a statement by athletic director Scott Stricklin, the decision to remove Amato came after a “disconnect” between him and the athletes.
“As the issues continued to be brought to my attention, it became apparent that sufficient progress was not being made, and Tony was not a fit for the University of Florida,” Stricklin said.
Following Amato’s exit, the Gators began a coaching search for the second summer in a row.
The Daytona Beach native was named head coach May 16 at an introductory press conference. Stricklin praised Bohon’s continued success at the professional and collegiate levels and highlighted her work experience.
Bohon served as the head coach at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a private school in Daytona Beach, for 15 seasons before moving to Gainesville. With the Eagles, she amassed a 167-76-16 record and oversaw the program’s transition from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to NCAA Division II.
In addition to her successful stint at Embry-Riddle, Bohon has faced a fair share of SEC competition.
She served as an assistant coach at Tennessee from 2001-2005, focusing on recruitment and team defense. Bohon also played four seasons as a midfielder at Duke and had a two-year stint with the women’s national team.
The newly appointed coach soon brought in a fresh staff. Assistant coaches Adam Godwin and Josie Rix and goalkeeper coach Jack Rushworth joined Bohon’s task to mend a conflicted locker room. Their collective coaching philosophy, according to Bohon, focuses on building personal connections with the student-athletes and developing a hard-working mentality in the team.
The SEC preseason poll, released Aug. 16, placed Florida at the bottom of the pack. The low ranking could result from the new coaching staff, in addition to a young squad that features seven freshmen and two transfers.
The Gators have a demanding schedule ahead. They will host top-ranked Florida State Sep. 4 and kick off SEC play against No. 11 Tennessee Sep. 16. Four of their first five conference matches will be against top-25 opponents.
Despite having a short chemistry-building period, players are already buying into Bohon’s possession-with-purpose game style. That crafty strategy, combined with elevated pressure, resulted in 28 total shots in Sunday’s game against Stetson.
“I think our team chemistry has been really good; working with the coaches has been awesome,” said redshirt freshman Sophie White, who scored her first collegiate goal in that match. “I think we're gonna be a team to look out for this year.”
Florida will continue its redemption tour this weekend in the Lone Star State. The Gators will face a pair of Big 12 opponents: Baylor on Thursday at 5 p.m. and Texas on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Jose Tovar is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Florida specializing in sports and media. He has covered softball and soccer as a beat writer and aspires to work in the sports media industry.