As the USF women’s soccer team heads into its last match of the season following a 2-0 loss at Miami that extended its losing streak to eight, there are definite positives gained from the frustrating 2001 campaign.
“We’ve played toe to toe with some of the NCAA (Tournament) teams this year (FSU, Miami and Cincinnati),” said Fleck. “I think we now realize what it takes to get there.”
The Bulls also gained invaluable amounts of playing time – actual match time, not just scrimmage time – for a slew of youngsters who will not have to endure these learning experiences next year.
Not only will all of this year’s key players be back next year, but one tremendous addition will be added as well. No longer will Tia Opliger (a two time All-Conference selection) have to contribute from the bench as a spectator/coach, but will be able to show her skills on the field.
“I was fine (being medically red-shirted) until the first match when they started announcing the players on the field,” said Opliger. “My eyes started watering, and I thought, ‘This is only the first game.'”
After an incredibly frustrating season from the bench with an injured foot, Opliger will be back next year to provide some consistency in the midfield, which was sorely missing this year. But more importantly Opliger will parade the on-field leadership obviously absent for long stretches this season.
“It’s so funny, because when you are on the field you can only see so many things,” said Opliger. “But from the sidelines you can see everything, what other options you have and how some of the new players react and play to certain situations.”
All of this season’s frustration commences for Opliger and the Bulls tonight at the USF Soccer Stadium against conference foe UAB (9-8-0, 6-3-0). UAB has an opportunity, with a victory, to slide into the fourth position for the upcoming Conference-USA tournament, and possibly follow with an NCAA Tournament bid.The Bulls have an opportunity to show they’re ready to compete when the ball is put into play for next year.
“The tournament is not an inclusion of teams, but an exception for special teams that know what it takes to get there,” said Fleck. “For the next six or seven months this team now knows what it needs to do to make itself an exception.”
- Chris Lemke covers women’s soccer and can be reached at email@example.com