Six straight wins.
Following Florida soccer’s 3-1 victory over Texas A&M on Sunday, the United Soccer Coaches’ poll placed the Gators on the list of 25 for the first time in 2019. UF barely missed last week’s cut with the most votes (44) of any team left off. However, after a sixth consecutive victory and a 4-0 SEC start to conference play, Florida found itself at No. 19 on Monday’s ballot.
A month ago, this recent success seemed unlikely. This season had a 2018 feel to it when coach Becky Burleigh’s squad dropped four straight, something UF did twice last season.
However, a 4-0 annihilation of Florida Gulf Coast on Sept. 12 seemingly altered the attitude of the entire team. UF (8-4, 4-0 SEC) has dramatically improved. Here are a few reasons why:
Susi Espinoza’s aggression
In those six wins, Susi Espinoza has only allowed three goals. A huge reason is that the redshirt junior waits for nothing. Even well placed through-balls from the opposing attack are met by Espinoza at the top of the 18-yard box and sometimes even beyond it. That causes favorable angles for strikers to become significantly worse for the team not in orange and blue.
Kit Loferski’s presence
Redshirt junior Kit Loferski only has two goals on the season, but she has had a direct impact on five more. With four assists on the year plus drawing a foul inside the 18-yard box against the Aggies to force a successful penalty kick, the defender has contributed in some way towards seven goals. Before the win streak began, UF only had 10 goals on the season altogether, so her penetration has had a significant effect.
Vanessa Kara’s emergence
Vanessa Kara has made the biggest impact on the Gators in this run statistically by a massive margin. The transfer from Drexel won SEC offensive player of the week on Sept. 16, after scoring three of Florida’s seven goals against FGCU and Miami.
This week, Kara claimed the honor again after her two-goal outing against the then-top 15 Aggies. Earlier in the season, a problem for UF was not capitalizing on ideal chances. There was not a player outside of the injury-plagued Deanne Rose that showed the capability to end chances well.
Kara has proven she is that player. She has eight goals in the last six games.
Without these factors for the Gators, they lost four straight and were not close to a top-25 ranking. With them, UF has beaten two top-15 teams in a row, and outscored its last six opponents 17-3.
Follow Graham Marsh on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF. Contact him at [email protected]