Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What Can you Expect From the Women's UF Soccer Team This Season

Kirkups headshot when he played for Manchester United

Just when you may have thought UF's women's soccer team couldn't get any better, you thought wrong. After having an incredible season with a winning record of 19-4 the Gators are only getting better. The women's soccer team at the University of Florida has one heck of a program. Their head coach Becky Burleigh joined the Gators in 1995. She has accomplished some amazing things throughout her time spent at Florida including the following list, according to floridagators.com
  • 1998 NSCAA/adidas National Coach of the Year 
  • 1998 College Soccer Weekly National Coach of the Year
  • 2010, 2008, 2000 & 1996 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year 
Since 95' the Gators have appeared in the NCAA tournament 18 times, they have had two NCAA College Cup appearances; one 1998 which they won and then appeared again in 2001. They also have 10 SEC championship titles. Very few teams can bring to the table what this one can.

Is there a secret to team success? Coach Kirkup discussed what it's like behind the scenes.

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 Marlyand 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."

Kirkup believes this season they have room to approve in all areas. "We let in too many goals last year, so defense is something we need to key in on and something we worked on this spring. I think we got better. We always score goals, just need to keep them out on the other end."

The athletic department at UF is very tight knit, ask anyone around and they'll say it even gives off a family feel. Kirkup thinks a big part of this is influenced by how supportive all athletes on campus are even to other teams. "Everyone here has a winning mentality and that makes it a great place to be" says Kirkup.

This upcoming season the Gators will have the largest women's soccer team in school history with 15 new freshmen coming in. When the coaches begin their recruiting process each year, set aside from skills they find strong character qualities to be very important. So what exactly does this coaching staff look for?

When he was asked coach Kirkup said, "When recruiting a player we first ask the coach what kind of teammate she is. If there's a hesitation or the coach isn't sure, that tends to be a red flag. They have to be a good teammate. Players that come here have to be good teammates, want to work hard, and be respectful of their coaches along with their other teammates."

Gator nation can look forward to a fun season from these ladies. Coach Kirkup tells his players, "it's your job to entertain me, and they always do that. When people come watch us they see an entertaining style of soccer and also a winning style."

Special thanks to coach Alan Kirkup for his time. 

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