Florida’s soccer team had one of the hardest schedules in the nation for the 2019-20 campaign.
Its toughest stretch came in the early portion of the season when the Gators faced three top-10 opponents in a span of eight days. Then-No. 5 USC, then-No. 4 UCLA and then-No. 6 FSU all defeated a UF team that was adapting to life without former leaders like midfielder Lais Araujo and goalie Kaylan Marckese.
Coach Becky Burleigh said she constructed the schedule that way to prepare her team for the later, more important, part of the season.
Burleigh’s forward-thinking worked out for Florida, which earned eight victories in its next 10 games. But the Gators went winless in the last three fixtures of the regular season and missed out on the SEC East title.
With the conference tournament on the horizon, No. 5 seed UF will have to replicate its midseason form against fourth-seeded Texas A&M in the quarterfinals.
The Gators and Aggies last met on Oct. 6 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville.
Texas A&M was ranked 12th in the nation at the time, yet it was Florida that came out with the 3-1 triumph behind forward Vanessa Kara’s two-goal performance.
Kara, however, has not scored a goal since.
That’s a streak of six games without finding the back of the net — a cold streak the Drexel transfer has experienced before. She went scoreless in her first six games donning the orange and blue before registering two goals against Florida Gulf Coast on Sept. 12.
Kara, who was named to the All-SEC Second Team on Sunday, has the makings of a game-changing forward: quickness on the ball, intelligence off of it and loads of confidence.
The Gators will rely on her to make an impact in the quarterfinals against Texas A&M, just like she did less than a month ago.
Both teams were without usual starters in the previous meeting due to national team commitments.
Florida forward Deanne Rose and midfielder Ava Kuyken were with Canada and England, respectively, while Aggies defender Jimena Lopez was with Mexico. But they will all be available this time around.
Having Rose and Kuyken allows Burleigh to be more flexible offensively.
Whenever Rose is on the pitch, she garners the attention of several opposing defenders because of her combination of speed and strength. The junior has registered five goals and two assists despite sporadic playing time due to a nagging hamstring injury and duties with the Canada National Team.
Although Kuyken has yet to record an assist, the freshman puts her teammates in scoring positions thanks to the extra space that Rose provides.
The duo must work together once again to spark the offense for the Gators to advance to the semifinals of the conference tournament.
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at [email protected]