As Tennesse scored two goals in the final five minutes to rub salt in the wound, the Florida Gators’ 2021 soccer season officially came to an end.
The season started slow for Florida in coach Amato’s first season, however, the team showed promise and gained traction in the later half.
The Gators began the season winless through five matches before finally picking up their first win at Florida Gulf Coast. A tough schedule composed of matches against four ranked opponents, including a match against the number one and two seeds, held the Gators to a 1-5-2 out-of-conference record, getting outscored 6-18.
SEC play began and Florida showed what they were capable of. After tying their first match against Vanderbilt, the Gators went on to win their next two to get their point total to seven. Sophomore and first year starter Alexa Goldberg shined in that stretch with 17 saves and two shutouts.
Then, they came back down to earth. The Gators scored only two goals in the next four matches, dropping each of them. It was a lingering issue for the team all season that held them back: being unable to connect on that last pass and finish when opportunities were present.
Their next match was against Georgia. At halftime Florida was down 2-0 and it looked like the match was going to be another typical Florida loss where the team was just unable to score. However, the offense exploded, scoring three goals in the second half. Although the match would result in a fifth straight Florida loss, the team gained momentum and confidence in the offense to finish.
In a must win match against LSU on senior day, Florida went on to play their best soccer of the season. On a day where her career was being celebrated, graduate Kit Loferski stole the show with two assists and a penalty kick goal. The Gators won that match 4-0 with a season high on goals to boost their point total to ten.
Despite a loss in their regular season finale, a Texas A&M loss would send the Gators to the SEC tournament in Orange Beach as the tenth and final seed.
A rematch against Vanderbilt was set for the first round of the tournament. An own goal by Vanderbilt created from a Loferski cross in the 89th minute tied the match, sending them to overtime where neither team would score. Florida would then defeat Vanderbilt in penalties by a score of 4-3.
Facing 12th ranked Tennessee in the second round of the tournament was too much for the Gators to handle. Tennessee dominated and handed the Gators a 2-5 loss to end their season.
Coach Amato liked what he saw in his team and is excited for a strong 2022 campaign. “I think it was a lot of growth and development,” said Amato. “Early on, we were trying to figure it out. We knew that we were going to have to find different ways to score goals this year. From the beginning of the year, we worked on it and it paid off here down the stretch. I think we keep building on that in the offseason and carry that into 2022.”
The team will suffer the loss of key contributors such as Madison Alexander, Georgia Eaton-Collins, Shaye Seffart, Taylor Baksay, and Kit Loferski. These players were all key contributors to the team’s success, especially Loferski, the Second Team All-SEC forward, who consistently provided an offensive spark.
However, Florida is a very young team that was in their first season under a new head coach since Becky Burleigh took over in 1995. Despite the losses, the team is on an upward trajectory and should find more success in the 2022 season.