The Florida soccer team’s confidence has grown rapidly over the past week.
It snapped a four-game losing streak last Thursday in a 4-0 thrashing of Florida Gulf Coast and followed that up with a dominant 3-0 victory against Miami on Sunday to give coach Becky Burleigh her 500th career win, making her the only woman in Division I soccer history to reach that mark.
Burleigh's team has found its groove at just the right time as the Gators open up conference play against LSU on Thursday night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
In order to steal three points from the 2018 SEC Tournament champions, UF will rely heavily on two players who have made a resounding impact as of late:
Senior forward Vanessa Kara
Vanessa Kara was a proven threat at Drexel before transferring to Florida, recording the second-most goals (22) and third-most assists (11) in program history.
However, Kara got off to a slow start with the orange and blue. She started the first five games of the season and came off the bench in the sixth, but failed to accumulate any points in 334 minutes of action.
Her scoreless run ended on Thursday, as Kara found the back of the net twice against the Eagles. She followed that up with a goal on Sunday against the Hurricanes to help bring the Gators to .500.
“(It) definitely (feels) really good," she said. "It shows that our attacking unit is working better. It is great to get that rolling just before conference play begins.”
Kara, who earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors on Monday, must continue good form to propel Florida over LSU.
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Susi Espinoza
Susi Espinoza played an important part in UF’s first two wins of the season, registering a combined 12 saves and a clean sheet, but her success halted after that.
She conceded a total of nine goals as Florida lost its next four games.
But Espinoza redeemed herself on Thursday and Sunday. She allowed zero goals in both games and distributed the ball effectively to spark attacking chances.
Espinoza will have to channel her inner Kaylan Marckese — the school’s all-time leader in shutouts who Espinoza replaced this season — for UF to snag a victory in its first game of SEC play.
Contact Bryan Matamoros at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @bryan_2712.