After a relatively disappointing recruiting cycle in 2020, Becky Burleigh and the UF staff have bounced back with a pair of four-star signatures on national signing day.
The seven-player class features Riley Thompson, Sophie White, Maddy Pirello, Oakley Rasmussen, Amaya Simoni-Walters, JLo Varada, and Madison Young, with Thompson and White being the standout signees.
Riley Thompson is a Collinsville, Mississippi, native who will graduate from the illustrious IMG Academy this spring. The right-footed forward scored well over a goal per game in Bradenton while announcing her commitment to the University of Florida in December of last year.
With the Gators scoring by committee in the 2020 season — no player scored more than four goals this year — Thompson may look to take a more assertive role in the UF attack.
“Riley's been the leading scorer basically on every team that she's played on,” Burleigh said. “She's really, really scrappy. She's willing to work hard, willing to sacrifice her body and is someone who will definitely take a shot.”
Sophie White is part of a two-player coup from Utah, as her and Rasmussen both played for La Roca FC just outside of Salt Lake City. White was rated as a Top 100 Recruit by IMG and the forward has demonstrated considerable leadership experience, serving as a five-year captain at La Roca.
Burleigh spoke highly of the striker and referenced her strong connection with Rasmussen. “Sophie in her own right is just a very, very busy forward, Burleigh said. “(She’s) willing to press, willing to have a really high work rate and can score goals.”
UF also courted a pair of defenders, Amaya Simoni-Walters and Madison Young, to help patch up its leaky back-line from last season. Simoni-Walters is a three-star recruit, playing on several ODP (Olympic Development Program) teams in Washington while leading her high school team to a Class 3A state championship game. Both parents of the Seattle native played collegiate tennis, which Burleigh highlighted along with Simoni-Walters’ versatility and composure.
Young is the only Florida native in the 2021 recruiting class for Burleigh, playing her high school ball in Fort Lauderdale for Cardinal Gibbons while suiting up for Weston F.C. at the club level. Burleigh alluded that the defender may have been under-recruited due to a string of high school injuries but spoke highly of Young’s composure and athleticism.
JLo Varada is one of the more interesting signings this period, as the Puerto Rican becomes the third UF player with an international cap, along with Izzy Kadzban and Deanne Rose.
The 5’11 shot-stopper played at IMG Academy, but on a different team than Thompson. Despite being a bit of an unheralded recruit, Burleigh spoke about Varada’s strong range and footwork.
Maddy Pirrello wraps up the class of 2021, with the Harrison, New York, native having experience in the academies of both NYCFC and Sky Blue F.C. Burleigh praised the two-star forward’s feistiness and work rate along with her ability to score and create in the attacking third.
Burleigh expressed broad excitement towards the class of 2021’s potential on and off the field. “We have a great group of not just players, but people who really fill some needs that we have on our roster,” Burleigh said.
JLo Varada's last name was initially spelled incorrectly (Varanda). The article has been updated to reflect its correct spelling.
Contact Declan Walsh at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dawalsh_UF.