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Savannah Jordan (No. 7) slides to the ball in Friday night's 3-0 season-opening over Miami. (Photo: Tim Casey)

Saturday August 23, 2014Gators Wait Out Weather, Then Show Off Promise

Savannah Jordan (No. 7) slides to the ball in Friday night's 3-0 season-opening over Miami. (Photo: Tim Casey)

By RJ Schaffer
GatorZone.com Writing Intern

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The 20-season history of women’s soccer at the University of Florida has been filled with up-and-down moments.

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The zenith came with the stunning national championship in 1998, just four years after the program debuted. There have been Southeastern Conference championships along the way; 13 of them. Throw in some heartbreaks, too, with the most recent being the end of the 2013 season when a talented UF squad was ousted in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Gators will have to wait for the moments that will define them in this milestone 20th season. In fact, they had to wait an hour just for the season to start Friday due to thunderstorms.

The wait for results, though, didn't last too long, as eighth-ranked UF got the first of two goals from senior Jillian Graff less than eight minutes in against state-rival Miami and went on to post a 3-0 shutout victory at Pressly Stadium.

“I was really, really happy with the way we started off,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said.  “For us to do the things we did offensively in terms of our possession, and then what I really liked was how we defended as a team. … It was a great team effort and I’m really pleased with that start.”

Gators soccer team

Following a weather delay, the Gators soccer team came out fast to defeat Miami. (Photo: Tim Casey)

With heat-index temperatures reaching as high as 106 degrees, the Gators wasted little time sending a message to the Hurricanes, who had trouble even taking control of the ball, let alone creating serious chances to score.

The defensive pressure combined with a series of crisp, efficient passes by the Gators got the party started quickly.

Graff tapped in the season’s first goal from one yard out after Hurricanes' keeper Emily Lillard misplaced the ball while it bounced around on the goal line for a few tantalizing moments at the 7:47 mark, marking UF's fastest season-opening score since 1999.  

“I think we had a really good preseason,” said Graff, who had started only four games in her career prior to Friday.  “Throughout the preseason we’ve been working on really being together as a team, working as a team on defense, working as a team on offense and I think that really carried over to this game today.”

After scoring two goals all of her junior year, the Medina, Ohio product showed that the strange, if not awkward, first goal was only a warm-up when she scoried again in the 64th minute from 12 yards out for the first multiple-goal game of her collegiate career.

Sophomore scoring machine Savannah Jordan, the SEC's 2013 Offensive Player of the Year, got into the act when she iced the game with an unassisted goal in the 64th minute. Last year, Jordan made a smashing college debut with five goals in her first two games.

This year, for the time being, she's chasing Graff for the team's scoring lead.

“Well this being my senior season, I really want this year to be fun and enjoy it, so I really had that in mind,” Graff said.  “It’s really nice just knowing we have all these past [UF] teams following us and we have their support.”

Though Miami is unranked, the team is coming off a winning 2013 campaign that included a win over then-No. 3 Notre Dame. It wasn’t that Miami was bogged down by mental errors or hampered by careless mistakes. The Canes simply were outplayed in virtually every aspect of the game.

The Gators’ backline was steady and the attackers did a solid job of recognizing the chances they were given, but the main takeaway from the night was that the midfielders may be the key for a big season.

Pamela Begić stood out among that group. The sophomore from Slovenia and SEC All-Freshman selection led the team with three shots on goal and consistently created chances throughout the match. On the rare occasions when Begic and company allowed Miami to get forward, they were met with the same results as everything else on the night.

The most serious chance came with just about 10 minutes left in the first half, with UF leading just 1-0, when Miami forward Grace Rapp registered one of the team’s two shots from a few yards outside the penalty box that was stopped by senior keeper Taylor Burke.

Miami left town still waiting for its first goal of the season.

With Sunday's date against South Florida, Burke won't have to wait very long to see if her skills are more seriously tested. Just like the rest of the UF team won't have to wait too long to see if it can build on its opening-night performance.  

Like the short delay Friday night to get this 20th season going, the Gators hope a little wait is worth it.

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