Former Gators soccer player heads to the pros

Former Florida soccer player Jo Dragotta got her start in soccer with one goal in mind – get a trophy.

“When I was four years old, I would watch my siblings play rec soccer. At the end of the day, they got their trophies,” Dragotta said. “My parents would display them in the living room, and I remember thinking, ‘I want one of those shiny things,’ so I made my parents sign me up for soccer.”

Eighteen years later, the soon-to-be University of Florida alumna never thought those recreational days would lead to a career in soccer.

“When I heard about the league [National Women’s Soccer League] coming up my senior year, I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to play, and my senior year would be my last year in soccer,” Dragotta said. “When it ended, and we lost to Notre Dame, I felt like I wasn’t ready for it to be over, and I had so much more to give to the sport.”

The former Florida midfielder was drafted to the Boston Breakers, one of the teams in the newly founded National Women’s Soccer League.

“The college draft was in the morning and I was still sleeping, so Holly [King, former Gators teammate] called me, woke me up and just said ‘You got drafted,’” Dragotta said. “I didn’t believe her. I thought she was messing with me. It took me a few minutes to have that set in. I was in complete shock.”

Even after moving to Boston to begin training with her new teammates, Dragotta still couldn’t believe she was playing with some of the biggest contenders in professional soccer.

“The first day of practice, let’s just say I was a little star struck, and I’m not one to get star struck,” Dragotta said. “Meeting Heather O’Reilly, Sydney Leroux and even Cat Whitehill and getting to play with them is unreal. I’m playing with these players, and it feels like a dream.”

Dragotta and the Breakers began their inaugural season facing the Washington Spirit, the team that drafted Dragotta’s friend and former Florida teammate Holly King. The Breakers tied the Spirit 1-1.

Dragotta said that she owes her opportunity in the pros to Florida soccer coach Becky Burleigh.

“She taught me not to settle,” Dragotta said. “Going into my junior year, I made a choice to not be afraid to come out of my comfort zone. She taught me to take a leap of faith and believe in myself.”

In the 2012 season, Dragotta saw more time on the field and was tied for the second leading goal scorer on the team with Havana Solaun, both scoring seven goals on the season.

The 22-year-old said that her final season with the Gators gave her the strength to transition to a new team miles from home.

“Coming to a new team with high profile players, it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong, but every day I get better and I gain more confidence in myself as a player,” Dragotta said. “Whatever I can contribute to the team for a win is where I want to be.”

About Michelle Provenzano

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