For more than 10 months, it was the only thing in mind when thinking of playing Connecticut again: Payback.
After a painful defeat in penalty kicks against the 20th-ranked Huskies in November’s AAC Championship Game, the women’s soccer team made it clear that was the one thing it sought in the days leading up to Thursday night’s rematch at Corbett Stadium.
And that’s exactly what the No. 24 Bulls did as Newsome High product Jackie Simpson blasted home the winning goal in the 79th minute, and sophomore goalkeeper Kat Elliott made a career-high eight saves to keep USF ahead of UConn in a 1-0 triumph.
“After last year, how they kind of took away what was supposed to be ours, we all came out here and we started sloppy,” said Elliott, who shutout the Huskies in regulation during last year’s AAC final before allowing three goals in PKs. “Toward the end, we pulled it together and we got the win we should have had last year.”
Not everything went smoothly for the Bulls (9-1-1, 2-0), however. The Huskies (9-2, 1-1) took advantage of some sluggishness by USF and held a 10-9 shot advantage. Elliott was peppered with shots, forced to make six saves — including a pair of diving stops — to keep the match scoreless midway through the first half.
But luck was on the Bulls’ side when bad weather forced officials to halt the match for 43 minutes. For longtime USF coach Denise Schilte-Brown, that was the key to the final result.
“I thought we came out looking to perform, show our skills, but not our effort,” she said. “We regrouped in the locker room and I love this team. They were ready to come out and be a different team, and that’s the team we’ve seen this season.”
When play resumed with 15 minutes remaining in the first, the Bulls went to work applying pressure to the Huskies.
The Bulls nearly netted the first goal in the 37th minute, but a point-blank shot by Brittany Raymond clanked off the post. Late in the second half, Cristina Ferral missed another opportunity for USF by sending a shot over the cross bar.
But when the break came for Simpson minutes later, the defender took advantage.
A free kick at midfield by defender Alexis Rossi bounced once at the top of the box toward Grace Adams, who received it. Adams quickly turned and stretched a pass with her back foot to Simpson, who was wide open on the left side of the box. With her left foot, Simpson fired a shot into the top-right corner of the net for the eventual winner.
“I saw the back was open, so I just hit it with my left foot, and it went in,” said Simpson, a natural righty. “I’ve been working on it a lot.”
From there, Elliott and the Bulls staved off a late rush by the Huskies, who were picked by AAC coaches to repeat as conference champions during the preseason.
“To come out and beat a team that’s ranked higher than we are, I think that’s a huge step for us,” said Elliott, who also recorded a shutout Sunday afternoon in USF’s 1-0 victory over Temple. “It’s setting a tone for where we want to go forward with our season.
“We want to be a championship team.”