Saturday represented a significant date circled on the calendar for the Miami Hurricanes women’s soccer team — the Florida Gators were paying a visit to Coral Gables after having shelled them 3-0 last season.
Miami (1-11-1, 0-8 ACC) completed its extended 2020 season with a 2-0 loss to Florida (6-8-3, 1-6-1) at Cobb Stadium, despite starting the spring with a 4-0 performance over Florida International on March 14.
“I think we created a number of chances that were inches from being a different outcome for sure,” Miami head coach Sarah Barnes said. “I do think we had generated probably more chances against Florida today than we had in previous matches, so I think there’s a lot to be positive about and we certainly feel good about the future.”
In goal with no other keepers available for Barnes, redshirt junior Naomi Mbandu — a basketball forward for the UM women’s basketball team who started 16 games for UM through the winter — transitioned from the hardwood and added her goalie gloves after watching and playing the sport with her brothers at home in France.
Mbandu had received messages of encouragement from her women’s basketball teammates prior to the Canes’ season finale, despite not having lunged at the opportunity at first.
The native of Amiens, France surrendered an early goal in the fifth minute, however. A shot from Florida forward Beata Olsson tapped the far post, though then scored a team-high seventh goal, unassisted, off of the deflection to give the Gators a 1-0 lead.
With Miami scrambling to find a late goal, Florida nonetheless seized another scoring opportunity. Forward Samantha Tobar scored off of a pass from forward Kouri Peace at the top of the penalty box, putting the match out of reach in the 81st minute.
Four yellow cards were issued throughout the contest, with three to the Gators and one to the Canes.
“We have to improve our finishing obviously,” Barnes said. “I still think that’s an area that needs to get better. I think the difference between the fall and the spring, especially for those young players is that we’re generating significantly more dangerous opportunities. So, I think that part’s better where again, with our starting goalkeeper and our backup goalkeeper, I think this would’ve been a 0-0 game.”
The Canes were outshot 10-5, with four of the Gators shots having been shots on goal. Florida also totaled six corner kicks, while Miami launched only one.
“I still think it was a great experience for our field players because we wanted their head coach to have her final game in Division I soccer,” Barnes said on Florida head coach Becky Burleigh completing her 26-season Florida coaching career on Saturday. “We got a lot out of it, so I’m pleased that we played it. I’m not concerned about the goals against at all.”
Headed into the offseason, Barnes recognizes the opportunities for continued improvement having battled against one of the better teams of the SEC.
“We have so many freshmen and sophomores playing that every single game is an awesome opportunity for them to learn and grow,” Barnes said. “There’s a big difference in them playing in high school and playing in college, and especially in the ACC. All the experience is one more step forward for them, they’re going to be much more prepared for next year. They’ve learned and tweaked and made adjustments along the way, so it’s a great opportunity.”
Miami will be off for three months and head directly into preparation for the season, which will last for 10 days prior to the first match of the fall.
“For them, it’s what they do when they’re away from us,” Barnes said. “They’ve gotta make sure that they’re committed to the fitness side of things, they have to make sure that they’re technically improving, they’re watching the game, and improving tactically when they’re not able to play in real games like we are right now. So, they’ve got to generate opportunities to improve, and I think that requires discipline and taking responsibility for what they want the fall season to look like.”