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Thursday September 27, 2012Using Her Head: Holly King Providing Offensive Jolt

Gainesville, Fla.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

She already was one of the most aggressive and tenacious players on her team, but Holly King was issued a challenge by the Florida soccer staff last offseason.

Going into her senior year, the coaches wanted King to package those intangible traits and assert them on set pieces and the scoring opportunities they often present.

“In practice and games, I’ve always been able to win headers,” said King, the 5-foot-9 midfielder from Ashburn, Va. “They told me I needed to be more of a factor in those situations.”

How’s that worked out?

Barely 10 minutes into the second half of a scoreless match Sunday’s game against Georgia, UF’s Annie Speese lined up for a corner kick from the right side. King was supposed to shoot the middle on the play, but Speese’s kick was curling toward the back post. Instead, King went with her instincts and bee-lined for the far post to meet the ball.

King skied above the Bulldogs’ defenders and headed the ball into the back of the net to start the Gators on a decisive 4-1 victory and a third straight win.

For King, it was her third goal of the season, which equaled a career-high. Just 10 games into 2012, she is already nearly halfway to the seven goals she combined to tally during her freshman-through-junior years and has scored a goal in each of the last three Sundays -- and all three have come on headers.

“It’s been fun,” King said.

The first goal was the game-winner in UF’s 3-2 win over New Mexico on Sept. 9. The next came in a 2-1 overtime road win at Auburn on Sept. 16 that started UF on its current three-game winning streak, a run that Florida (6-3-1, 3-1) would love to build on during two more home Southeastern Conference showdowns this weekend when Ole Miss (9-2, 2-2)) comes to town Friday, followed by Arkansas (4-5-1, 1-2-1) on Sunday. 

In helping the team to five wins over the past six games, King credits the challenge issued to her by Coach Becky Burleigh and her assistants, but also to what’s gone on during practice the last few weeks. Lindsey Cooper is a 6-foot redshirt freshman midfielder under orders to glue herself to King during workouts and force King to make plays while marked by a defender three inches taller.

“It’s made me better having one of our best defenders marking me every day,” King said.

Burleigh has seen a change.

Like in the match two weekends ago against New Mexico, where despite a defender clinging to her jersey, King still manage to get off the ground enough to head the ball into a goal off a free kick. Another big play off a set-piece opportunity.

“She’s pretty relentless,”  Burleigh said. “She’s going to try to find that ball and just get after it. She’s going to battle through it. The one goal she scored where the player had her shirt stretched out about twice the size it was ... she’s just not afraid to really get in the trenches and get dirty. She’ll find a way to at least get a head on the ball, knock it down, give someone a second chance if she doesn’t score directly.”

King was one of five UF players who summered with the W-League, a women’s professional soccer league with 30 teams across the country. She played for her home-town D.C. United and returned to Gainesville claiming to have been quite the offensive threat.

Burleigh said that initial exchange went something like this:

King: “I scored goals for D.C. United.”

UF coaches: “Whatever.”

But when King returned in preseason and flashed her new-found prowess around the net, Burleigh serenaded her each time with a little "DC United" kind of jingle.

“She gets annoyed when I do that,” Burleigh said.

“No,” King said. “It makes me laugh.”

If it makes the Gators better -- and thus far, it has -- there will be a lot to laugh and smile about in the coming weeks.

“We’re showing so much improvement with each match, and I think that just shows a lot of character on this team,” King said. “And there’s still so much room for improvement. We can definitely get a lot better and we all recognize that.”


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