Losing four out of six games to begin the season made it seem like Florida’s soccer team would go the entire 2019-20 campaign unranked. But UF has caught fire as of late, and the United Soccer Coaches’ Poll has started to take notice.
The Gators were the first team out in last week’s rankings with 53 votes, but Sunday night’s 3-1 victory over No.12 Texas A&M at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville all but ensured their spot in the top 25.
“It’s a big win for us,” coach Becky Burleigh said. “Texas A&M is clearly one of the top teams in the league and has been for a while. For us to get this win, I think, is a really big confidence booster and just another step for us.”
UF (8-4, SEC 4-0) defender Kit Loferski wreaked havoc down both sidelines in the opening half. She started the game on the right side but worked her way across the Aggies’ (9-1-3, SEC 3-0-1) back line. Her constant movement paid off in the seventh minute when she made a blazing run down the left sideline to get by Aggies defender Briana Alston, who eventually tackled Loferski in the box for a penalty.
Forward Madison Alexander, who had yet to score a goal on the season, placed the ball on the penalty spot, stared down the goalkeeper and exhaled before burying it in the back of the net.
The Gators doubled their lead in the 18th minute thanks to forward Vanessa Kara’s knack for being in the right place at the right time. Kara pounced on a through ball outside of the 18-yard box and dinked the ball over the goalkeeper to give Florida a 2-0 advantage.
Both goals masked a foul-laden first half, which saw defender Julia Lester, forward Kouri Peace and Kara come away with minor injuries. Both Lester and Kara stayed on the pitch after being tended to for several minutes, while Peace was kept on the bench until the second half.
A pass from midfielder Sammie Betters to Kara in the 67th minute put Kara one-on-one with Texas A&M goalkeeper Shantel Hutton. Kara once again got the better of Hutton, as the forward placed the ball in the bottom-left corner for her eighth goal in the last six games.
The Aggies responded in the 74th minute, however, when forward Taylor Ziemer slithered her way around UF’s defense and snuck the ball past goalkeeper Susi Espinoza to cut the deficit to two.
Luckily for Florida, Espinoza was unfazed after conceding the goal.
The redshirt junior made two crucial saves in the last 10 minutes to stall Texas A&M’s comeback attempt and give the Gators their sixth-consecutive victory.
“We’d like to manage the end of games better,” Burleigh said. “I told our team I think we took a step forward but still have room for improvement there.”
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at [email protected]