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Friday, June 14, 2024

Gators stay resilient despite season struggles

Florida has navigated through adversities in head coach Samantha Bohon’s debut season

The Florida soccer team huddles pregame before its match with the Arkansas Razorbacks Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022.
The Florida soccer team huddles pregame before its match with the Arkansas Razorbacks Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022.

Florida head coach Samantha Bohon’s first year at The Swamp has been everything but peaceful. 

This season, the Gators have navigated through injuries, losses and a strict schedule as the program hopes to rebuild following one of the most forgettable seasons in school history. So far, Florida holds a 2-11-1 record with a 0-6-1 mark in Southeastern Conference play.

Despite the unimpressive record, Bohon is confident the team is heading in the right direction. 

“I’m just really grateful for the players and our staff,” she said. “I think that this type of season can be really frustrating and really discouraging, and I think one of the reasons we are so positive and we do see progress is because the team has just stayed working.” 

Rebuilding campaign

The Gators had a brief adjustment period following a tormenting offseason. 

Bohon’s arrival in May meant a second coaching change in less than a year for most of the roster. As a result, the program lost 12 players to the transfer portal and added eight freshmen and two transfers for 2022. 

After only having 16 days of official preseason, Bohon set 10 standards for her new team. They are a mix of tangible and intangible elements such as covering for each other, celebrating the small moments and having a “blue-collar” mentality, she said. The standards are tangible expectations the team continues to buy into. 

“I really am optimistic and think that this team wants something more,” senior forward Tessa Barton said. “I think that we're going to find it.”

Bohon’s goal is to measure the Gators’ performance not just based on wins and losses but also on how the team fulfilled those standards. Her team is full of competitors, and that’s what drives them to keep coming out, she said

“Whether it's one game or 10 games, we want to win,” Bohon said. 

Another mission in Bohon’s debut year was amending a broken locker room. 

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She made emphasis on making her players fall in love with the sport again and fostering relationships. To do that, the team has organized movie nights in the film room and study sessions in the student lounge at the James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center. 

“I hope, moving forward, everyone knows that this program does have a future,” senior Francesca Faraci said after a match Oct. 6. “It doesn't stop this year.” 

Fighting through injuries

Florida’s depth has been a recurrent issue this season. The current squad features only 26 players. The usual roster size is around the low 30s, Senior Associate Athletics Director Mary Howard said. 

Of those players, two of them are backup goalkeepers — Faraci and freshman Jayden Emmanuel. Three others haven’t played all season — junior forward Maddy Rhodes, freshman defender Kira Prologo and freshman midfielder Olaia Rackauskas. 

The short availability has affected the way the team manages its rotations during matches. It also affects them in practice, as the Gators will try to keep players healthy by avoiding unnecessary injuries. 

“It’s been a huge impact on how we have had to approach the season,” Bohon said. 

However, she still finds a silver lining in the roster’s small size. 

“Players are getting incredible opportunities to play different roles,” Bohon said. 

One of those players is redshirt sophomore defender Tori Grambo.

Grambo has played 477 minutes in eight appearances after struggling with injuries over the last two seasons. Two freshmen have also benefited: defender Njeri Butts has come from the bench nine times to cover on defense, and forward Tatum O’Coyne has seen action in 12 matches, totaling 265 minutes. 

Among the players who have missed substantial time due to injury are redshirt freshman forward Sophie White and freshman defender Lauren McCloskey. White started three matches before suffering a knee injury; she last played Aug. 28 against Texas. McCloskey totaled 660 minutes in eight starts before going down with a lower-body injury.

Heavy workload

While some players take advantage of a timely opportunity, others are seeing their workload increase. 

Defenders Josie Curtis and Madison Young have started all games this season, accumulating 2,382 combined minutes. Together, the tandem has only been subbed out nine times. Junior defender Anna DeLeon has also reached the 1,000-minute threshold in 13 starts. 

Bohon said she’s grateful for the team's commitment as it navigates a demanding schedule. This season, Florida has faced four top-25 opponents, losing all of those matches by a combined 8-0 score. 

“For us to come into the season with a really small roster with a lot of inexperience and have to play these really hard non-conference games and then the SEC, it’s stretched us and really challenged us,” Bohon said. “But I do believe that in the long run, it will pay off.”

The Gators, who have lost eight games by a one-goal margin, sit at the bottom of the SEC standings. The team needs to mount a comeback over its last three conference matches if it wants to qualify for the 10-team SEC tournament that begins Oct. 30. 

“I think we haven't hit exactly where we want to be,” Barton said. “I think we're getting there, and I'm so excited [about] where we're going.”

Florida returns to the pitch Thursday night to host Vanderbilt at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. The match is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will stream on the SEC Network+. 

Contact Jose Tovar at jtovar@alligator.org. Find him on Twitter @jose___tovar.

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Jose Tovar

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.


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