The Gators undefeated start to SEC play ended on Thursday in a tough loss at Ole Miss. But it was the freshmen class that filled the score sheet as Florida (9-5) put down a struggling Kentucky (5-8-2) team.
Kentucky came to Gainesville having lost their last seven matches. It looked like the Wildcats were going to turn things around, though, when they got on the board first.
In the 16th minute, the ball fell to an unmarked forward, Julia Grosso from a corner. She blasted the ball into the back of the net with a superb volley. The Wildcats took a uprising lead, 1-0.
But, just ten minutes later, freshman Laney Steed equalized with a volley of her own. Vanessa Kara, who is usually finding the back of the net herself, headed the ball to a waiting Steed at the top of the box. Without hesitation, she released a volley that sailed over the Kentucky keeper to even the game.
The young guns of Florida fired again in the 39th minute, when the ball fell to Ava Kuyken at the top of the box. She took a dribble and turned before producing a curling effort that beat the keeper giving the Gators 2-1 lead.
These were the first goals of the season for Steed and Kuyken, who have gained Coach Becky Burleigh’s trust over the season.
The Gators went into the half with a five to two shot advantage over their opponents. They looked the better team, and although coach Becky Burleigh was pleased, she saw room for improvement:
They picked up where they left off in the 50th minute, when forward Kouri Peace found the back of the net after Deanne Rose put her through on goal.
The Gators continued to threaten and hit the post twice before eventually picking up their fourth goal.
Parker Roberts placed a free kick from about 22 yards with her weak foot past an outstretched Kentucky keeper in the 63rd minute.
The Wildcats attempted to claw themselves back into the game in the 70th minute when they were awarded a penalty. Forward Jordyn Rhodes converted the spot kick for her fifth goal of the season.
It would not be enough, though, as the visitors were thoroughly outplayed on the day. The Gators finished the game with a 16-6 shot advantage.
What’s Next for the Gators
The team was rotated heavily throughout the game on Sunday, with some other younger players like Madeline Gravante and Alivia Gonzalez receiving play time. Factor in Steed, Kuyken and Peace, and it is safe to say the Gators have a promising young core.
Florida has five days before hosting an inconsistent Auburn (6-5-2) team on Friday night. The Gators are 5-1 in conference play and trail only South Carolina in the SEC East standings.