Few college coaches can match Becky Burleigh’s ability to bring a team ready to challenge for each season’s conference and national titles on such a consistent basis. There is no question that Burleigh stunned the soccer community when the Florida program she started in 1995 claimed the 1998 NCAA crown in just its fourth season of play. But focusing on that obvious achievement doesn't give due credit to the job Burleigh does year-in and year-out as a tactician of the sport, developing players and promoting the sport at local, state and national levels.
In 20 seasons at the helm of the UF soccer team, Burleigh, 47, has led UF to a NCAA Championship, two NCAA College Cup appearances, 13 Southeastern Conference titles and 18 NCAA Championships berths. Along the way, Burleigh picked up National (1998) and SEC Coach of the Year (2012, ‘10, ‘08, ‘00 & '96) honors. Her career winning percentage of 77.1 (436-117-36) ranks No. 4 among the NCAA Division I Active Coaches.
The 1998 season's culmination with a 1-0 victory over North Carolina for the NCAA Championship marked a remarkable job by Burleigh, as the program she built from its beginnings used a four-year fast track to the national crown. In 1998, Florida set season marks for best record (26-1), highest national ranking (No. 1), and highest NCAA Championships seeding (No. 2). Florida captured its third consecutive SEC Tournament title and advanced to its first-ever NCAA College Cup. By taking UF to the College Cup, Burleigh became only the second female coach to lead her team to the NCAA semifinals and the first to win the NCAA crown. Burleigh also received the 1998 NSCAA/adidas, College Soccer Weekly and Soccer Buzz National Coach of the Year awards.
Burleigh's Gator teams were overachievers from the beginning, setting impressive milestones each fall. After joining the Gator program in June of 1994, Burleigh had just over a year to put together the first Florida soccer team. Burleigh used the time wisely, and the team that she introduced to the crowd of more than 4,400 at the James G. Pressly Stadium on Sept. 2, 1995 was a squad that was ready to step into the challenges of NCAA Division I soccer competition. Burleigh’s second Gator team made it known early that they were ready to take a spot among the nation’s elite, defeating then-No. 9 Virginia, 1-0, the opening week of the 1996 season for UF’s first win over a ranked team. Florida quickly jumped into the top 10 of every national poll -- a position it would hold throughout the 1996 campaign. The 1996 UF squad became the first of four UF teams (1998, '99, '00) to sweep through the SEC regular season and Tournament undefeated. As a second-year program, Florida was the youngest in the 32-team field of the 1996 NCAA Championship, reaching the NCAA quarterfinal and finishing the season ranked in the nation’s top 10. The 1997 Florida team defeated three top-25 teams and although the Gators finished second in the SEC Eastern Division, UF did defeat SEC Eastern Division champion Vanderbilt to win the program’s second consecutive SEC Tournament title.
In the team’s sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the Gators again advanced to the NCAA College Cup in 2001, falling 3-2 in overtime to eventual NCAA champion Santa Clara.
Those early successes have evolved into the Gator soccer team being a regular among the nation’s ranked teams. Over the course of the program’s 20 years, Florida has:
- 18 NCAA Championships’ berths (1996-2001; 2003-2014)
- Two NCAA College Cup appearances (1998, 2001), winning NCAA title in 1998
- 13 SEC team titles (1996-2001; 2006-2010; 2012-13)
- 10 SEC Tournament titles (1996-01; 2004; 2007, 2010, 2012)
- Last season, Florida advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinal Round and was second in the SEC. On the final NSCAA poll of 2014, the Gators held the No. 7 spot.
Prior to being named Florida’s first head soccer coach, Burleigh coached the Berry (Ga.) College Lady Fury for five seasons (1989-93), when she compiled an 82-23-6 overall record. During her five-year coaching tenure at Berry, Burleigh guided the Lady Fury to two NAIA national championships (1990 and 1993) and was also named NAIA National Coach of the Year during the same two seasons. Burleigh was named NAIA Regional Coach of the Year in her first season as head coach at Berry in 1989, when her squad finished as the national runner-up. At Berry, Burleigh compiled a 76.6 win percentage, as she lost only seven games to NAIA opponents during her five seasons of coaching the Lady Fury.
Did You Know?
Nine top-10 national finishes have been achieved all-time by the Florida soccer program. In 25 seasons of coaching, Burleigh has compiled an overall record of 436-117-36 (.771) and her 436 wins already places her No. 3 among Division I coaches (all-time and active) for career victories. Burleigh earned her 200th career win with Florida's 2000 SEC Tournament semifinal win versus Kentucky, making her the second-fastest active Division I coach to reach the 200-wins milestone. The 300th win came at Mississippi in 2007. With Florida’s win versus Florida Gulf Coast in the 2012 NCAA Opening Round, Burleigh earned her 400th win. Her 26 wins in 1998 marks a career high in single-season wins.
Burleigh has coached 19 NSCAA All-Americans, 11 NAIA All-Americans, 40 All-SEC players, 124 student-athletes on the All-SEC Academic Honor Roll, five CoSIDA Academic All-Americans with seven honors and 11 student-athletes honored as NSCAA Academic All-Americans.
As a student-athlete, Burleigh played her collegiate ball at Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C., where she was a four-year letterwinner. In her senior year, the Tarpon Springs, Fla., native served as team captain and was named to the All-South team as well as the team’s Most Valuable Player from her goalkeeper position. Burleigh graduated Magna Cum Laude from Methodist in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. In the fall of 1999, Burleigh was inducted into the Methodist Hall of Fame. She earned her master’s degree from Georgia State University in 1993.
She was inducted into the USA South Hall of Fame in the spring of 2015 and the Methodist University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.
THE BURLEIGH FILE