By Jenna Perlman
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Savannah Jordan may have had a late start when it comes to playing soccer, but at the University of Florida she already is way ahead.
Jordan, a freshman from Fayetteville, Ga., played a variety of sports as a youth before focusing on soccer, a decision for which the Gators are surely thankful. Last weekend, in her first taste of college competition, the 5-foot-7 forward scored five goals in two matches, including a hat trick Sunday against Oregon State, in one of the most smashing debuts in program history.
“Honestly,” Jordan said, “I was just hoping to go out there and give a good performance, whether it was scoring goals or assisting or even just causing a presence in the game that could help the team win.”
Instead, she merely made headlines Tuesday as the NSCAA National Player of the Week. But now that Jordan has announced herself to the nation, she figures to be a focus of future opponents starting Friday night when the No. 8 Gators (2-0) play host to rival and third-ranked Florida State (2-0) at Pressly Stadium.
Should the Seminoles feel the need to mark Jordan closely, her coaches are confident she’s up for the challenge; mentally and certainly physically.
One of those sports she used to excel in was taekwondo.
“My older sister was a competitive gymnast and went to a facility that had an upper and lower level,” Jordan recalled. “On the upper level, they were training martial arts, so I would go to the gym with her. I guess I randomly decided one day to pick it up.”
That was at age 10. Soon she was exceling at the sport, collecting three U.S. Junior Olympic gold medals in martial arts sparring and earning a second-degree black belt in Korean style Taekwondo
“I think the aggressiveness kind of carried over a little bit,” Jordan said. “Obviously when you’re sparring and fighting as a sport it brings that side of you out.”
UF coach Becky Burleigh sees Jordan’s aggression as a trait that contributes to her ability to score. If defenders want to fight her player for position, let them try.
A little physical play probably won’t bother a black belt.
“There is a lot of traffic in the goal, keepers are coming flying out, and some people are a little adverse to those situations – she is not,” Burleigh said. “She invites physical contact. That is a goal-scoring trait.”
Although Jordan is technically a freshman, she graduated from high school last December to enroll for spring 2013 and begin training with the team.
The head start helped.
“I think it was a big advantage for me coming into the fall because I was already used to playing with them and how the system of our team plays works,” Jordan said.
The Gators opened last Friday by beating Florida Gulf Coast 3-1, behind two goals from Jordan, and followed that win two days later in beating Oregon State by the same score. No UF player had ever scored five goals in her first two games.
What impressed the Florida staff even more was how she scored them.
Her first was a lefty crossing shot from the wing. Then she crashed the FGCU keeper and bodied the ball into the net. Against OSU, she slashed through a trio defenders for her first, out-dribbled three more in traffic for the second, then simply out-ran a Beavers defender and popped a shot in from outside the goalkeeper box for No. 5.
While Jordan didn’t expect to have such a productive weekend, Gators associate head coach Victor Campbell says her ability to put herself in scoring position was something the coaches not only saw during spring practices, but when scouting Jordan during the recruiting process.
Right foot. Left foot. Headers. She scored in a variety of ways.
Just like last weekend.
“And it was all natural,” Campbell said.
Jordan initially thought about going to Auburn when UF first came calling, but when told by her club coach of Florida’s interest, the feeling was mutual immediately.
She’s fearless,” Campbell said. “I was telling Becky, ‘We haven’t had that kind of goal-scorer since Abby left. Someone who can manufacture her own goals.”
That, of course, was a reference to Abby Wambach, the UF Hall-of-Famer and all-time leading goal scorer in women’s international soccer history.
For Jordan, the comparison is flattering, but she knows it’s way premature.
Besides, for now, she’s happy just to be Savannah Jordan and seeing where that takes her.
“I know that we might have similar styles and people might compare us because we both came to Florida and score goals,” Jordan said. “But I aspire to be my own player.”
She’s off to a good start.