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Junior Havana Solaun & rest of returning Gators are helping to prepare Florida's freshmen for the rigors of road matches

Thursday September 26, 2013Full Road Weekend Next Test for No. 7 Gator Soccer Team

Gainesville, Fla.

Junior Havana Solaun & rest of returning Gators are helping to prepare Florida's freshmen for the rigors of road matches

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators soccer team flew out early Thursday morning for its Southeastern Conference road opener Friday night when Florida plays at Mississippi. 


Gator Soccer First Out-of-State Road Match -

 Season by Season



Sept. 27, 2013

at Mississippi

Sept. 26, 2003

at BYU

Sept. 17, 2010

at Duke

Sept. 15, 2006

at Duke

Sept. 15, 1996

at Vanderbilt

Sept. 14, 2007

at Illinois

Sept. 8, 2000

at Nebraska

Sept. 8, 1995

at Kentucky

Sept. 7, 2001

at LSU

Sept. 4, 2009

at Indiana

Sept. 4, 1999


Sept. 4, 1998

at Texas A&M

Sept. 3, 2004

at North Carolina

Sept. 2, 2005

at Notre Dame

Aug. 31, 2008

at Nebraska

Aug. 30, 2002

at Michigan

Aug. 29, 1997

versus North Carolina in Dallas, Texas

Aug. 26, 2011

versus Texas A&M in Knoxville, Tenn.

Aug. 24, 2012

at North Carolina



For those unfamiliar with the Magnolia State, Ole Miss is not a terribly convenient place to get to via commercial air. A direct flight from Orlando will get the Gators into Memphis, then it’s all aboard for a bus ride south. 


Can make for a long day. 


“And we just heard from our academic advisor,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said earlier this week. “Some of them have to take a test as soon we get there.” 


Such is life on the road in college athletics. 


For the seventh-ranked Gators (7-1-1, 1-0), the two-game weekend SEC road swing to No. 24 Mississippi (8-1-1, 1-0) and on to Missouri (5-4) for a Sunday match, will shake up the home-body routine the team has dealt with the first six weeks of the season. 


UF has taken the field 10 times this season, including an exhibition match against UCF in Orlando. Of those 10 matches, only three have been away from Pressly Stadium -- and those have been bus rides to Sunshine State venues; the first to Orlando to face UCF in an exhibition match; then to Miami to face the Panthers of FIU; and most recently to USF in Tampa. 


“It’s crazy,” senior midfielder Caroline Triglia said Tuesday. “Even though we’ve done some travel, we haven’t been to an airport yet. We haven't even been away on a Friday yet. Our two [regular-season away] games were on Sundays, so it’s almost like we haven’t really been gone because we haven’t missed any school.”


Until now.


Though it may not seem like a big deal, successful programs need to plan their time on the road. For a team like the Gators, armed with a core of freshmen providing significant contributions, the next few days will be about establishing precedent on how to prepare for the actual competition and deal with the inconveniences of layovers in airports, bus rides on back roads and free time in hotel rooms. 


“I’m actually looking forward to my first real road trip,” freshman forward and UF leading scorer Savannah Jordan said. 


In Burleigh’s 19 seasons since founding the Florida soccer program, this is the latest the Gators have left the state of Florida to play a match. Three of their next five matches (all SEC dates) will be on the road to league outposts in Oxford, Miss., Columbia, Mo., and Starkville, Miss. 


“We really rely on the older players to kind of share their experiences with the younger players; and not just the experience of the actual games on the road," Burleigh said. "It’s how you take care of school on the road. How you sleep. The free time you have. It’s a big difference and it’s an important part of our development.”


That’s where the upperclassmen come in. 


“Being on home ground, you can control so much more,” junior midfielder Havana Solaun said. “You’re sleeping in your own bed and eating your own food. It’s more comfortable. Now, we go on the road and we have to deal with the other team’s fans, but also all the things that come with being away from home.”


The UF rookies got a taste of the fan thing in a 1-1 tie that went two overtimes at USF. The Gators were the villains that day -- in front of a fairly boisterous crowd -- but a Thursday-through-Sunday trip changes the dynamics and responsibilities. 


“It’ll be good to give our new players a little taste of that,” Triglia said. 


Added Burleigh: “We’ll do a little walk-through Friday, then they’ll have the whole day free [until the match]. How you manage that is a big deal. It becomes your routine. If you sleep the whole day, you might feel sluggish before the game. At the same time, it’s also a great chance to catch up on rest, but also a great chance to catch up on school work. It’s different for each person. There’s some experimentation. Eventually, they’ll figure it out.”


To this point in the season, the Gators have found themselves to be a close-knit bunch that has embraced the Burleigh system that accentuates team soccer over individualism. The fact the transition from the senior-laden 2012 team -- with five players having started for teams in the National Women's Soccer League this summer -- to a determined and cohesive mixture of young and old, Burleigh thinks, may have taken some college soccer followers by surprise. 


"But we're not surprised at all," she said. "We may not get the flashiest players, but we get the players we need." 


The Gators hope to show a new group of fans as much this weekend. 


In unfamiliar territory. 


"I think we're a team with a lot of composure," Triglia said. "We don't rattle very easily. Going on the road shouldn't phase us at all." 



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