For No. 24 USF women’s soccer, almost every road trip is a mix of business and fun — almost.
The Bulls (8-2, 3-1) loaded up on a bus at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning to make this weekend’s road trip that features Tulsa (6-7, 2-2) and Memphis (12-1, 4-0). Those teams and the Bulls are all within two games of leading the AAC.
This trip, according to coach Denise Schilte-Brown, will probably be a little more business than fun.
“I think the Tulsa-Memphis trip is the most challenging trip,” she said. “There’s so much distance between them and they’re both very competitive teams.”
On paper, No. 18 Memphis looks like the more challenging opponent. The Tigers are tied for third in the nation in total goals scored with 37. Their nearly-perfect record and conference-leading 28 assists might intimidate most opponents. The Tigers have recorded 10 shutouts this season — USF has just four.
Despite Memphis’ loaded stat sheet, Schilte-Brown isn’t going to overlook Thursday night’s Tulsa.
“You can’t go into Tulsa thinking about Memphis at all or you will for sure lose,” she said. “We’d be making a huge mistake to overlook Tulsa. They have a really good freshman, I think she’s on the ‘Top Freshman in the Country’ list.”
Tulsa’s Mia Darden is ranked No. 100 on TopDrawerSoccer.com’s Top-100 Freshman Women list. Darden plays forward for the Golden Hurricane and has seven goals and two assists this season.
The Bulls have their own highly-ranked freshman, however. Forward Sydny Nasello is ranked No. 73 on the same list. She has three goals of her own with four assists.
For those wondering, Evelyne Viens is ranked No. 6 on TopDrawerSoccer.com’s National Women’s Top-100 list. Memphis’ highest-ranked player on the same list is defender Olivia Gauthier at No. 45.
Though she’s just a freshman, Nasello knows this weekend is important for the Bulls.
“I think this is going to be our toughest weekend on the road,” Nasello said. “There’s no days off, you’ve got to keep working…everybody’s mentality has to be there.”
Playing on the road can seem like a disadvantage to some coaches and players, but for USF, the team trips give players and coaches a chance to get away from the seemingly monotonous schedule of school, work and practice.
For USF coaches, the road trips are a chance to focus on planning and strategy.
“There’s absolutely no distractions,” Schilte-Brown said. “It’s total focus on what you have to get done, so that’s great…It’s a break from the grind of being home.”
Schilte-Brown added that she enjoys the fun of being on the road. She and her team get to eat at different restaurants.
Nasello echoed her coach about how fun the trips are, but noted that the shared travel brings the team closer together.
“It’s team bonding,” she said. “We think that team chemistry off the field translates to team chemistry on the field.”
This weekend, the Bulls will have to be on the top of their game to trump the conference-leading Tigers. The results of this weekend could help the Bulls break away from the pack of regular season hopefuls.
“It’s so competitive within the group that everybody is looking at how crowded it is and I think we’re all thinking the same thing,” Schilte-Brown said.
Winning the regular season would give the Bulls the opportunity to host their first conference tournament. Home-field advantage is always desirable, but USF is undefeated at home this season.
Hosting the AAC tournament is a goal for the Bulls and this weekend could be a strong indicator of how likely they are to run away with the regular season title.
“I think it makes it easier to play in front of our own fans on our own field,” Nasello said. “I don’t think our level drops if we play away, but I definitely think it’s harder when you have a bunch of fans screaming for the other team.”