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UF freshman class holds up fellow freshman Pamela Begic

Thursday September 12, 2013Fresh(men) Faces: Young Gators Help Kickstart Season

UF freshman class holds up fellow freshman Pamela Begic

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The play did not result in a goal for the Florida Gators, but it did bring a big smile to the team’s sidelines. Both live last Sunday and again when the UF coaches reviewed the tape later.
 
From her midfielder spot, Pamela Begić  controlled the ball when she caught a glimpse of forward Savannah Jordan streaking up the wing. Begić sized up the field just long enough, then popped a pass that not only hit Jordan in stride -- just ahead of the Oklahoma State defender -- but in perfect rhythm, also.
 
Think of a the textbook bounce pass from point guard to a forward on a basketball fast break. Or a quarterback floating a fly pattern that drops into the hands of the wide receiver in full gallop.
 
The pass found Jordan’s foot. The shot sailed wide of the goal.
 
But the play -- and Begić’s skill -- was there for all to see; and on tape to occupy future opponents.
 
“Not too many girls know how to make that final pass; that last pass to get the striker in and on target,” UF associate head coach Vic Campbell said. “It’s a very subtle thing, but if you watch this game long enough you appreciate it even more.”
 
The fact Begić, a freshman from Slovenia, came to UF with such a deft touch is awfully encouraging. That her skill set isn’t head and shoulders above her classmates makes it even more so.
 
Yes, Begić has demonstrated quite an ability to distribute, ranking in a tie for second on the team with three assists. But Jordan, also a freshman, leads the team in goals with six. Forward Brooke Sharp, another freshman, has a goal and a couple assists. Nora Neset Gjøen has a win as keeper.
 
There’s a trend here. One that bodes well for the Gators down the line.
 
“We really like our freshmen,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said. “We thought it was a good group coming in.”
 
They’re certainly seeing enough of them. Three weeks in, the ninth-ranked Gators (5-1), who face unbeaten Minnesota (6-0) in the final non-conference home match of the season, have gotten a combined 1,583 minutes from their eight-member rookie class -- that’s 26 percent of total team minutes -- not to mention 10 of the squad’s 15 goals and 25 of its 45 points.
 
Not bad from a collective crew that ranked 30th among incoming signing classes, according to the recruiting analysts at TopDrawerSoccer.com.
 
In football recruiting vernacular, there probably weren’t enough four- or five-stars among the newest Gators.
 
“I don’t even know if they do it like that,” Burleigh said with a shrug. “That’s not how we recruit anyway.”
 
The Florida coaches look for players that fit the team-oriented system the Gators have been playing under Burleigh since the program corner-kicked its first ball in 1995.
 
“I’ll be honest, you will rarely see our kids ranked in the top 20 coming in, but that’s because we’re a unique team,” Campbell said. “We try to play the game the way it was meant to play played. Too much of [youth girls] soccer is wrapped up in winning. We’re looking for the girl who is technical and tactical.”
 
Those are two words Burleigh swears by when building her team.
 
She and the UF staff saw those traits (plus a physicality and aggressiveness) in Jordan and they didn’t bother to check and verify with any internet rankings, either.
 
“I think I was in a top 30 in the southeast in one of them,” Jordan said.
 
That would be the Savannah Jordan who scored five goals in her first two college matches to garner NSCAA National Player of the Week honors.
 
As for her classmates, Begić had vision and an uncanny knack to see a play develop. Midfielder Liz Slattery had a defensive presence and awareness that caught the coaches’ eyes. Meggie Dougherty Howard, another midfielder, played eight years for a boys AAU team in St. Petersburg, Fla.
 
“We knew she was tough,” Burleigh said.
 
Now a handful of freshmen are contributing to a team that figures to get better -- especially with so many young players learning on the fly -- as the season goes on.
 
“My hope was to come in her and make an impact on the team in a positive way and prove myself as a player,” Dougherty Howard said. “Being around these great coaches and all these great girls has made the transition so much easier.”
 
Added Begić: “The coaches told us we’d have to come in and earn our time. I was surprised when I played so much in the exhibition game [at UCF], and then more surprised when I started the first game. But I think I’ve done OK. I feel like I belong.”
 
Oh, she belongs all right. So do the rest.
 
Their coaches can’t wait to see how these rookies belong when they’re deep into the Southeastern Conference season a month or so from now.
 
“You can never plan on what they’ll do when they get here, that’s why we’re so pleased and excited about what we’ve seen,” Campbell said. “So far, they’re looking pretty good, and they’re only going to get better as they mature.”

 

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