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The Gators plan to use a group effort to fill the loss of Havana Solaun (#19).

Friday November 15, 2013Gators Play On and Play for Havana Solaun in Saturday's NCAA Soccer Opening Round

Gainesville, Fla.

The Gators plan to use a group effort to fill the loss of Havana Solaun (#19).

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nine straight wins. Thirteen shutouts. A conference co-championship. The nation’s No. 1 goal-scorer.

No. 2 region seed Florida (17-4-1, 9-2 SEC) versus Jacksonville (12-7-1, 6-3 A-Sun)


Date & Time: Nov. 16, 2013 @ 2 p.m. ET

Site: James G. Pressly Stadium (4,500) – gates open at 1 p.m.

Streaming video: complementary streaming video on GatorVision


Internet: live stats and audio for UF-JU match available on


Admission:  $7 for adults and $3 for youth 12 & under/senior citizens – contact the UAA Ticket Office at 352-375-4683 x6800 or 1-800-34GATOR, ext. 6800 (state of Florida only)


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So much was going well for the Florida soccer team that maybe, just maybe, the Gators weren’t ready for such a sudden jolt of adversity. 


Then midway through the first half of Southeastern Conference Tournament title game, junior midfielder Havana Solaun collapsed Sunday to the Orange Beach Sportsplex turf. Solaun, one of the toughest on the team, stayed down. Worse, she was clutching her right knee. 


Everybody knew. 


UF not only lost Solaun to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Gators lost 2-1 to Texas A&M that day, dropping their first match since Oct. 4.


“The momentum we’d been been building never accounted for an injured player,” classmate and fellow midfielder Annie Speese said. “Especially one who has the impact Havana does.” 


The season-ending injury of Solaun, the first-team All-SEC selection and second on the team with 25 points, was a crushing blow to the Gators (17-4-1), who host Jacksonville (12-7-1) as a No. 2 region seed in Saturday’s opening-round play of the NCAA Championship at Pressly Stadium. 


Not only was Solaun one of the best players on the team, she was one of the most valuable, given her spot in the middle of UF’s second line. From there, she keyed the offense, was always on the move, constantly getting open, making herself available for the ball and finding ways to get it to Savannah Jordan. 


And now she’s gone. 


In meeting with her players this week, Gator coach Becky Burleigh acknowledged no one person could fill Solaun’s void. It would have to be by committee. So she asked her team to come up with a list of things -- talents, traits, intangibles -- that Solaun brought to the team. 


“Because one person doesn’t replace her, that’s where I think we’re fortunate,” Burleigh said. “We have a lot of depth on this team. We’ve played a lot of people all year long. The synergy, the sum of the parts, has to replace that loss. I think it’s about everybody picking something from the list and being committed to bring even more to their game.” 


Experience, leadership, composure, intensity and a variety of soccer skills were among the index of characteristics collectively brought up on Solaun’s behalf. Now they have to show up. 


It’ll mean getting this from senior Caroline Triglia, that from senior Maggie Rodgers and bits of something else from any of the other midfielders Burleigh and her staff send into the postseason fray. 


“We don’t replace her. What Havana brings is unique,” Speese said. “But we’re going to look to other players to step up and bring what they bring. Because her loss is something that’s felt by the whole team, every single person understands they have to step up and bring a little more now. I’m excited to see who it’s going to be and how. I know I plan on stepping up. I’m sure every other player on the field will.”


Meanwhile, one player off the field must alter her role, too. 


That would be Solaun. 


She’s never been the rah-rah type. The Gainesville Buchholz product has let her play do her talking. The Gators need their co-captain in a different way now. 


“I’m not a super-loud or super-emotional person, but now I have to sort of change that and step out of my comfort zone to help my team out,” Solaun said. “The biggest thing for me is to be more vocal. From the [sidelines], I’ll have to keep them confident and communicate more and be a different kind of leader.” 


An inspiring and motivating Solaun will be better than no Solaun at all. Burleigh made that very point by asking her team to make a second list of how Solaun could help the Gators in their quest for a deep NCAA run. 


Solaun snapped a photo of the list with her cell phone. 


“It’s something she’s responsible for,” Burleigh said. “She’s always led by example, but now she’s going to have to express herself in a different way. I’m excited about that. When she comes back, we’ll have the Havana that leads by example and the one who leads vocally.” 


Meanwhile, the Gators will play on. 


And play for her. 


“We talk about our purpose and playing for the system because what we do is so unique and we’re trying to show it and prove it’s effective,” Speese said. “But we also play for each other and work as hard as we can for the person next to us. This just adds to that. One of those people can’t play anymore. A person we really care about. This is a chance to show her -- show ourselves -- that we mean what we say.”



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