UF Women’s Soccer, Accustomed to Success from the Start
By: Olivia Prewitt and Maddie Schmidt
Gainesville, Florida is home to one of the greatest women’s soccer programs in the south. Since 1995, the beginning of women’s soccer at the University of Florida, the team has led the SEC. They have done this all under the same head coach.
In the Summer of 1994 Becky Burleigh was named the first and only head coach of UF’s women’s soccer program. She has coached the Gators to 19 NCAA tournament appearances, along with a national title in 1998.
The Florida Soccer program has also had eight players named first-team All-Americans, including two Olympic gold medal winners. Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts both won gold medals in women’s soccer during the 2004 Summer Olympics.
It’s time to look forward to a new season of UF women’s soccer, after an incredible season; they’re back again and better.
Their winning record last season speaks for itself, after going 19–4 overall and 8–2 in the SEC, being ranked No. 8 in the NCAA, winning an SEC championship title, and excelling off the field in the classroom it is safe to say it was a good year for the Gators. The Gators fell to Duke with the final score of 2–1 in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Not only are these ladies beasts on the field, but they also aren’t too shabby on the academic side either. This past season alone they had 3 players that were “All-American with honors” which where Claire Falknor, Savannah Jordan, and Christen Westphal. Jordan and Westphal were named NSCAA first team, and Falknor following behind in the NSCAA third team. Success is not foreign to this team.
So what is it that makes a team so successful? A strong coaching staff has the ability to make quite an impact. Yesterday assistant coach, Alan Kirkup sat down to discuss what goes on behind the scenes.
Getting to Know Coach Kirkup
Coach Kirkup is originally from England, where he played professionally for Manchester United. He was “pink slipped” there and then decided to go to the University of England. His senior year he was granted the opportunity to become a grad asst. at the University of Eastern Illinois, this was his first time being exposed to college soccer in the United States. Which led to him becoming an asst. men’s coach at Southern Methodist and eventually held the position of head coach for both the men’s and women’s team. From 1989–1996, he was solely SMU’s women’s coach, and made it to the 1995 NCAA semi finals. He headed to Maryland to become the head women’s coach from 96–98. He was Arkansas’ head women’s coach for the 1999 season. He invested into this program through 2004.
After this experience was over he went back to England with no intention of returning to America.
Little did he know he would soon be offered a position at UF from coach Burleigh. This job didn’t appeal to him he told me, “I was happy with what I was doing at the time back home.” It was February when he decided to come check out UF, “February in England is miserably cold… So that was the bait that caught me. Burleigh explained what I would be doing and I was sold.”
This past season the Gators were a pretty young team, when asked how big of a learning curve it is for the freshman when they experience their first practice, workouts, and especially their first game. He responded, “It is difficult for freshmen to make an impact, but we were very fortunate to have a few that did. Their transition from what they have done on their HS and club teams is quite different. It was a big class, but to win an SEC championship it isn’t bad at all.”
Given that the Gators were a young team, Coach Kirkup was asked how they managed to make it so far. He responded, “Well, you have to win games obviously.” Coach went on to say, “The tournament (NCAA Tournament) is a different beast. You have to win three games in five days. It’s physically very demanding. The tournament and regular season are two very different things. The tournament is a bit more of a lottery, a survival of the fittest.”
The team was fortunate enough to not have very many injuries this past season, but Coach was asked if there were any other obstacles that had to be overcome. He responded by stating, “There are obstacles in the fact that you lose games you probably should have won and bouncing back from that is an obstacle.”
Coach Kirkup opened up about the team and said, “It wasn’t a season of drama.” Those are words every coach strives to be able to say about their team. Although he did say that “It wasn’t smooth sailing, but it there weren’t too many obstacles either.”