Byars leads Texas soccer to victory over Florida with 2-goal performance

Evan Vieth, Soccer beat reporter

Sophomore forward Trinity Byars’ two goals and strong physicality led Texas to its second win of the young season over the visiting Florida Gators on Sunday afternoon at Mike A. Myers Stadium.

The win marked just the second time the two teams have ever faced off, with the first matchup ending in a tie in Gainesville, Florida last season when a late equalizer by the Gators evened the game in the 87th minute.

The Longhorns started the game in control, throwing two close shots at Florida keeper Alexa Goldberg within the first four minutes, including a shot on goal by Byars at just the 24-second mark.

“We definitely went after them,” fifth-year defender Emma Regan said. “It really sets the tone for the rest of the game.”

Early possession by the Longhorns looked to be the sign of a quick score, but it was the Gators who actually got on the board first. Senior forward Tessa Barton slotted a beautiful shot into the bottom corner past Texas goalie Savannah Madden to make it a 1-0 game at the 11-minute mark.

The Longhorns, however, didn’t let that phase them. Just a minute and a half later, sophomore Lexi Missimo fed freshman Liz Worden into the 18-yard box, and a quick pass from Worden gave Byars a shot on goal. Byars, the Longhorns’ leading scorer from last season and preseason All-Big 12 honoree, quickly turned and struck the ball into the bottom right corner of the net from just behind the penalty spot, giving the Longhorns a fast response and a tie game.

12 minutes later, a promising Texas attack led to a wide open shot from the top of the box, and Regan took every bit of the opportunity, sailing one into the back of the net to put the Longhorns up with 20 minutes left to go in the half.

Sunday was Regan’s 61st consecutive start dating all the way back to the beginning of the 2019 season. The goal marked her first ever scored outside of a penalty kick, despite having the second most career appearances on the current Longhorns team.

“I totally credit Trinity on that,” Regan said about her first-half strike. “She made it super easy for me, and it was really nice to get the first goal.”

Though the game quieted down for the remainder of the first half, pressure from both teams led to mistakes on both sides. The biggest came from the Longhorns, when Regan gave up the ball in front of an open net, leading to an easy tap-in for Florida midfielder Julianne Leskauskas. 

“Uncharacteristic,” head coach Angela Kelly said of the blunder. “They took advantage of a mishap by us.”

The Longhorns worked quickly to start the second half, peppering shot after shot at Goldberg, nearly matching the total shots the Gators had in the first half in just the first 10 minutes. Both teams had their chances, as the Longhorns had three close-call deflections in the span of a minute, and the Gators forced Madden to make a superb save in the 57th minute to keep the game tied.

“I’m happy that we were able to have that response after the first-half mistakes,” Kelly said.

A long time passed before more action, but the Longhorns finally delivered the game-deciding goal with just 10 minutes left to play. Worden showed tremendous skill and evaded her defender on the left wing, delivering a beautiful cross to the head of Byars, who put it past the keeper.

“My teammates put me in a lot of great situations,” Byars said. “It felt good to get back on the scoreboard.”

Her two goals were Byars’ first of the season after a strong 2021 campaign.

Despite strong chances for Florida near the end of the match, including a corner kick in the 89th minute, the Longhorns secured the victory. Texas’ physicality and resilience were noticeably stronger in Sunday’s match as compared to the game against North Carolina just three days prior. 

“It’s always about the response,” Kelly said. “I thought we worked really hard, especially for the second game of the weekend.”

Texas improved to 2-1 on the season after the victory over Florida and will face off against the Oregon Ducks in Eugene on Thursday.