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Freshman midfielder Ellie Gilbert passes the ball. On Oct. 28, 2021, the University of Georgia soccer lost to Vanderbilt at the Turner Soccer Complex 1-2 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Sidney Chansamone, @sid.chansa)

On Sept. 5, freshman Ellie Gilbert earned her first career start against Wofford after midfielder Bella Ponzi was unexpectedly ruled out in warm-ups. Eight starts and 13 games later, Gilbert earned her first career goal as a Bulldog in Georgia’s final game of the regular season.

It was a chance seemingly impossible for the midfielder to miss. After forward Dani Murguia saw her close-ranged effort saved, the ball fell perfectly to Gilbert, who scored in stride from 10 yards out for the 1-0 lead.

“It feels awesome,” Gilbert said of her first career goal. “It was all Dani. She was able to get it all the way up the field, and I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Gilbert became the eighth Bulldog to earn her first career goal this season. She also moved her way into the second most minutes played among Georgia freshmen.

The midfielder’s 21st minute strike was her only shot of the game. It kept Georgia in front for nearly 40 minutes before the Commodores came roaring back with two second-half goals and the late 2-1 win.

She has quietly submitted her place into the Georgia lineup, earning her eighth start in 18 total appearances for the Bulldogs. Thursday’s match against Vanderbilt marked her sixth start in a row.

Since seizing the opportunity against Wofford, Gilbert has become a key player for Georgia head coach Billy Lesesne to call upon. And she delivered in the season-defining match against Vanderbilt. It just wasn’t enough in the end.

“Ellie’s been fantastic for us this year,” Lesesne said. “She did well on her individual defending matchups, was able to get into attacking spaces and obviously got a second chance there to finish the goal for us in the first half.”