Soccer Re-Boot II: ‘This time, it just feels different’


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When the 2022 Florida soccer team gathered together for the first time Monday, Samantha Bohon didn’t tell her first Gators squad what she was about or what she expected from them. She used a power point presentation to show them. 

First, Bohon glossed over her background. Standout club player from Ormond Beach, Fla., who became an All-American at Duke and floating member of Team USA. Her first coaching position was successful stint at Tennessee, but she walked away from that to start a family. Four years later, she returned to the sidelines as head coach at Division II Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., a couple exits up I-95 from where she grew up. 

The next phase of the presentation was one that impacted the Gators directly. Bohon spoke of the personal values most important to her, ranging from family to faith to individual relationships. She then laid out her holistic “Student-Person-Player” philosophy, which put further emphasis on relationships. Then came a list of standards her student-athletes were expected to meet, both on and off the field, along with some core focus points that would be emphasized. 

“And then we finished with a really funny video,” Bohon said. 

With that, a new era of Florida soccer had commenced. Again. 

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Coach Samantha Bohon wants her first UF soccer team to be a close-knit group built on relationships.  

Yes, the Gators did this last year, with similar elements of newness and excitement as Tony Amato, by way of Arizona, took over a program built from the ground up by Becky Burleigh, who won 14 Southeastern Conference titles, went to 22 NCAA tournaments and won the 1998 national championship over her 26 seasons. Amato, after just one season, was dismissed in April, with UF athletic director Scott Stricklin citing “a disconnect” between the coach and his players after a dozen of them entered the transfer portal. Stricklin and his search committee went looking for a replacement who not only could fix the program but mend a bitter coach/player detachment that festered over a 4-12-4 season that marked the worst in program history. They didn’t have to go far to find that person. Just a couple hours south, where Bohon went 167-76-16 over 14 seasons at ERAU and over her entire time there never had a player transfer out of the program. 

The healing began instantly. 

 

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Kouri Peace




“I can already see a real big difference, and not just with one or two people, but with everyone,” senior forward Kouri Peace said. “The whole staff has really made an effort to get to know us beyond the soccer field.” 

Case in point: Bohon attended a club tournament over the summer and happened to see Peace’s father in the crowd watching his youngest daughter compete. Bohon approached him and spent 30 minutes talking to him about Kouri, about their family, about soccer, about a wide range of things. 

“She didn’t have to do that. She had people to see and players to watch, but was thoughtful enough to take time talking to my dad and then to my sister,” Peace said. “She was getting to know them, like she’s getting to know us. The relationship aspect, this time, it just feels different.”

That’s been a high priority for Bohon from the moment she was hired May 16. It’s not something she had to fake, either. The relationship piece has always been a key component to her coaching profile. 

“I just think that’s who I am,” Bohon said. “When I had meetings with various [UF]  representatives, I explained to them that’s just always how I’ve done things. This is my 22nd year in college coaching. I’ve always led with relationships, with competitiveness a close second, so it was just a good fit. I don’t think I’ve had to change what I do, but I’m making it clear with what I do and giving it time. They’ve accepted me and our staff very quickly and we’re grateful for that.” 

With that acceptance has come buy-in. It just so happens that Bohon arrived a few weeks after the Gators opened the doors to a sparkling new $7.4 million, 13,000-square foot soccer facility. 

 

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Delaney Tauzel 


The place still smells new and the Gators intend to do their part to keep it that way, with one faction of the team assigned to clean and vacuum the place. Another group is assigned to organize the equipment each day before practice; another sets up the dining area for team meals; a fourth group helps managers with the laundry.

Where some might see entitlement, Bohon is fostering gratitude. 

“She wants us to be what she calls a ‘blue-collar team’ that’s not afraid to do the dirty work, including in [the building],” junior midfielder Delaney Tauzel said. “No one’s complained about it because she’s got us all on board with it.” 

Bohon has only been on the job for less than four months, so the process is in the very early stages, with the first practice of the season coming Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. (a day before the football team took the field across campus). That day, Bohon walked on to the practice field at 4:15 a.m. to run in humidity as thick as soup. By herself. In the dark. 

“The parking garage lights were on, so that helped,” she said. 

Bohon put herself through the same sprint drill she assigned to her players that day: 300 yards worth of shuttle runs; 50 yards (out and back three times). Her players’ required time was one minute. Bohon, 46, gave herself an extra five seconds. Yes, she made her times. 

On Wednesday, Bohon jumped into passing drills and (easily) held her own. She’s still got game.

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Senior forward Alivia Gonzalez during the team’s first practice Tuesday. 

“We respect that a lot,” senior Alivia Gonzalez said. “Our Tuesday afternoon session probably was one of the hardest I’d ever experienced at Florida, but it felt good to feel like we were accomplishing something.”

The ’22 roster is one of the smallest in years, with just 25 players to bounce back from last season’s debacle. The four wins followed a six-win campaign in Burleigh’s final season. Only once (2018) in the previous 25 seasons had UF post single-digit victories. 

Translation: Amato inherited a program in utter need of a rebuild. 

Update: So did Bohon. 

“We have a lot of work to do and this is the beginning,” she said. 

Her players understand their place as a foundation.

 

 

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Alivia Gonzalez


“This is the start of getting Florida soccer back to where it needs to be and, honestly, what we’re doing right now is getting us on that track,” said Peace, who will lead the Gators into a Tuesday exhibition date against North Florida. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but our mindset and team camaraderie’s is very good. We’re playing for each other and just being positive. I think that’s been a little bit of a struggle in the past, with the uncertainty and not knowing what was coming next. Now, we’re leaning on each other and that will be an important step to get us going in the right direction.” 

For several of the upperclassmen, they’re working on a third head coach in as many seasons and a second reboot in 12 months. The “fresh start” theme was making the rounds 12 months ago. 

But, again, this one feels different. 

“As a team, we’re looking forward and not behind,” Gonzalez said. “There’s nothing we can do about what happened last year, so it’s on to this year. We’ve been excited to put all that behind us. And here we are.” 



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