The sophomores shocked and awed on Friday night, when the Florida women's soccer team opened up its season by beating Iowa State 5-2.
"It’s like the perfect game for a coach because we definitely had some highlights, and we definitely have some things to work on," said Florida head coach Becky Burleigh. "It’s good to get that first one under our belt where we can celebrate a victory, but at the same time, we definitely have some points of emphasis to look at before Sunday."
The match not only showcased the underclassmen talent, the first three goals were scored by sophomores, it also demonstrated the offensive weapons at Burleigh's disposal. For the first time since 2001, the Gators recorded 30 shots, 15 on target.
"I think it was good just to see the diversity in our attack," said the Florida head coach. "That was pretty obviously on display tonight, and I think that’s going to be a theme going forward."
"We definitely have a much more diverse offense than I’ve seen in a while," added senior forward Savannah Jones. "We have a lot of creative players in the midfield. I personally love playing with them. A lot of speed, a lot of power – it’s a lot different. It gives every team a different look, so one team can’t just mark one person."
The Cyclones managed to contain Jones for most of the match with the senior struggling to get on the board early on.
“I think Iowa State came out strong," she said. "They were good defensively. They were very organized in how they defended us as a whole team. It was a little difficult for me – they dropped off a lot and didn’t give me a lot of space. I think it opened up a little bit more in the second half. I had a little bit of a different role. I set a lot more tonight and set up my teammates, which was really good. Our team is so dynamic and so deep that it allows for a lot of opportunity in different area."
The depth and talent was on full display early on. After just seven minutes of play, a little give-and-go between Jones and sophomore midfielder Mayra Pelayo ended with Pelayo curling the ball past the keeper and into upper corner.
“I remember I just went wide, and I tried to open up the field as wide as I can. I saw Sav(annah Jordan) calling for the ball, and I saw the keeper coming out too, so I decided to whip it in, and it went in," said Pelayo. "I feel like the fact that we scored really early and put a high tempo into the game was nice. It was a good start"
The Cyclones, however, made the Gators work for the second goal. Keeper Lindsey Hendon made some heroic saves in the first half to keep Jones and the Gators at bay. However, the pressure was just too much. With just four minutes left before the break, Florida was able to break through after a Meggie Dougherty Howard throw in found sophomore Melanie Montegudo. The midfielder controlled and launched the 22-yarder over the keeper's head and into the back of the net, securing her first goal as a Gator.
UF did not waste the momentum from the second goal, Florida recorded two goals in two minutes to the start the second half from both Sarah Triccoli and Dougherty Howard. But the Gators could not close out the match with a clean sheet. The Cyclones managed to make it a two goal game after scoring twice within 10 minutes.
"We have a lot of attacking personalities on our team, and that’s terrific, and we love that part of it. But we also have to remember that we have initial jobs that involve defending, and that’s everybody. That’s not just the defenders – it starts with the forwards and goes all the way back," said Burleigh. "Sometimes you can get lulled into that, and I think that happened to us a little bit tonight. Credit Iowa State for taking advantage of those opportunities. You still have to stick the ball in the back of the net, and they did a good job with that."
Florida ended all of the visitors' momentum, however, when Jones was finally able to break through in the 68th minute. The goal was her 66th of all time moving her into a tie for third on the Gators career goal list. She also ended the night with three assists.
The Gators will return to action on Sunday when UF hosts Florida Atlantic. Kickoff for the match is set for 1 p.m.