The Florida soccer team’s 2019 campaign came to an anticlimactic end Friday night in front of its home crowd at Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
UF came into its 25th season unranked, and an early four-game losing streak buried the Gators in the minds of voters. But they recovered from their shaky start, winning six consecutive games to earn the No. 19 spot in the United Soccer Coaches Poll.
Florida, however, did not live up to its billing.
The Gators missed out on the SEC East title, were knocked out of the SEC Tournament and were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament all in a matter of 15 days.
Despite the disappointing end to a once-promising season, there were several bright spots for coach Becky Burleigh and her squad:
Offense turns it up
UF’s offense was a cause for concern entering the year. Its 23 goals and 1.1 goals-per-game average in 2018 were Florida’s lowest in program history.
The Gators had no depth behind forward Deanne Rose, who made just 10 appearances due to Canadian national team commitments.
After being named the 2017 SEC Freshman of the Year with nine goals and three assists, Rose managed just two goals in her limited playing time as a sophomore.
But the arrival of transfer forward Vanessa Kara and emergence of freshman forward Kouri Peace brought some much-needed firepower to Florida’s anemic attack. Having more players up top at her disposal allowed Burleigh to rotate them on a consistent basis, which kept the offense churning deep into the season.
UF found the back of the net 38 times for an average of 1.81 goal per game, with its trio of forwards accounting for half of those. Kara bagged a team-high 10 goals, while Rose and Peace chipped in with six and three, respectively.
Senior class leaves its mark
Florida’s 4-2 loss to South Florida in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament over the weekend marked the end of its seven-player senior class’ time in Gainesville.
Julia Lester, Tess Sapone, Sammie Betters, Haillie Lower, Alex Stubblebine, Alyssa Howell and Kara might have taken the field for the last time in Florida’s colors, but their composure and leadership left a legacy that will be remembered for years to come.
“With the seniors, some of them are big personalities in their presence and some of them are just big personalities in what they bring every day, whether it’s to practice or to the standard of the team,” Burleigh said.
UF’s next senior class will consist of seven players, too, and it will try to build on what its predecessors started in 2020.
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at [email protected]