Thursday August 9, 2012Gator soccer makes season's first step Saturday at UCF
Late in last season’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against UCF, midfielder Annie Speese went to trap the ball after a throw-in when her right foot planted in the turf awkwardly.
No. 21 Florida at No. 12 UCF
Saturday, Aug. 11 @ 7 p.m.
The Coaches: Becky Burleigh, beginning 18th season @ UF (382-103-32/22 seasons overall - 300-80-26 /UF),
Amanda Cromwell, beginning 14th season @ UCF(186-78-24 – UCF)
The ensuing moments were as horrific as they were painful.
“My knee just went,” recalled Speese, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on the play. “For me, personally, it was frustrating, but it was also just icing on the cake.”
“In a bad way, that is,” Speese added.
How much worse could it have been?
Well, minutes later, UCF eliminated the host Gators, seeded second in the region and playing on their homefield, with a crushing 3-2 upset. UF outshot the Knights, out-possessed the Knights and did just about everything to outplay the Knights, except outscore the Knights.
In a lot of ways, that loss looked a lot like Florida’s 2011 season.
“We didn’t have the right mentality,” Speese said. “Instead of getting down to business, we just had too many excuses.”
Which was too bad because the Gators had too much talent for things to break that way.
“Last year, was such a disappointment,” senior midfielder Holly King said. “We had a great team and a great senior class, but the results did not show that. I think we all just want to forget about it and move on.”
That process has been underway since Florida opened preseason training Aug. 1, but the exorcising of last year’s demons will go next level Saturday night when the Gators travel -- get this -- to face preseason No. 12 UCF for an exhibition game in Orlando.
What better to flush out the demons than to face them as a warm-up to the Aug. 17 regular-season opener against Miami?
“It’s funny how that works out,” senior defender Kat Williamson said. “But I’m sure our coaches are going to reiterate to us that it’s just another game, and we approach all games the same.”
Williamson was all over that prediction.
“I think the team is excited about [playing UCF],” Coach Becky Burleigh said. “I just want to worry about us and do what we need to get done.”
The Gators return 19 players, including nine starters, from a team that went 17-8 and tied for third in the Southeastern Conference with a 7-4 mark in league play.
UF will enter the 2012 season ranked 21st in the nation.
“I could care less about that,” said Burleigh, who was reminded she started last year ranked ninth. “Yeah, and you saw how that worked out.”
Burleigh, though, believes the Gators are ahead of where they were this time last preseason -- a little deeper, also -- and liked the aggression and intensity she displayed during the first intrasquad game Wednesday night.
Williamson, one of the top defenders in the nation, and senior midfielder/forward Erika Tymrak, who led the team in nearly every offensive category, including goals (12), shots (72) and points (32), are back after garnering All-America honors in 2011. King was an All-SEC selection, while Speese and midfielder Havana Solaun were chosen for the league’s All-Freshman team.
Among the newcomers are nine incoming freshmen, as well as junior forward Adrianna Leon, a transfer from Notre Dame who will miss the first several weeks of the regular season while competing for the Canadian national team at the U-20 World Cup in Japan.
“I like what we have and where we are right now,” Burleigh said.
Now she wants to see what happens when she turns her players loose against an opponent that just so happens to be the one that put an ugly exclamation mark on a season that wasn’t very pretty to begin with.
“I want to see us play with a physicality that we lacked at times last year and an urgency in terms of our attack ... but an urgency with patience,” Burleigh said. “That might sound like a contradiction, but we’re going to play more of an aggressive style than we played with all last year.”
UCF would seem like a pretty good starting point.
The ideal place, actually.
“It’s perfect,” said Speese, whose surgically repaired right knee is 100 percent recovered. “Just a great opportunity for us to go there and set the right tone for the season. We can’t wait.”