After a commanding 5-1 win against Albany last weekend, No. 13 USF women’s soccer advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for just the third time in program history. The Bulls will travel to Tallahassee to play against No. 4 Florida State on Friday at 5 p.m.
USF’s opponent boasts a 42-1-0 all-time NCAA tournament record at home, has won 13 consecutive shutouts — they haven’t allowed a postseason goal at home since 2013.
While the statistics are in FSU’s favor, Bulls coach Denise Schilte-Brown isn’t counting her team out of the competition.
“You want to go in with the confidence of saying ‘we’ve been here,’” she said. “The one practice this week that allowed us to have high-intensity minutes, I felt like the starters came out ready to give those high-intensity minutes.”
What might seem obvious is a harsh reality. The Bulls have to score to win.
USF will need to snap the Seminoles’ postseason home shutout streak. While Evelyne Viens hasn’t had trouble scoring on most teams this season — she’s now up to 20 goals this season — she’ll have to get around the FSU keepers, who have allowed just 11 goals all season.
Brooke Bollinger has played 1,591 more minutes for FSU than Caroline Jeffers. Bollinger left the Seminoles’ ACC Championship match after an injury in the second half. Jeffers entered and hasn’t left since. She played the entirety of FSU’s shutout against Loyola in the first round of the NCAA tournament, leaving questions as to who the Bulls will face in goal Friday.
“I don’t know which one is playing,” Schilte-Brown said. “I think [FSU] felt confident they were going to win that first game, so I don’t know if they were resting their first goalkeeper or if she’s legitimately injured. I don’t think they’ll give that information out.”
USF’s goalkeeper Sydney Martinez, who has only allowed 14 goals this season, could have her hands full with FSU’s attacking positions.
“I think [FSU] has stronger points on their team,” Schilte-Brown said. “I think their attacking center mids are kind of their threatening positions.”
FSU’s Deyna Castellanos, native to Venezuela, leads the Seminoles with nine goals. She’s also amassed 96 shots, 43 of which have been on target and leads the team with six assists.
According to Schilte-Brown, FSU has found success this season playing differently than it has in previous years.
“They’re a different Florida State team than what we’ve seen in the past,” she said. “Before, they would try to break you down using their back six to create dangerous opportunities up top…You can’t give them any breathing room or they’re going to get so many numbers in the 18-yard box. It’s a little scary.”
Scary or not, the Bulls have been able to practice at home, which is important for any team traveling in the postseason.
“We’re still in Florida, we don’t have to go far from home,” Schilte-Brown said. “We’re going to train at our home pitch, sleep in our own beds. We only have to be displaced one night before the game, which is a good opportunity for us to come together.”
Although they’ll be playing in Florida, the weather in Tallahassee is noticeably different than in Tampa, with a rainy, 50-degree evening in the forecast Friday. One of USF’s many Canadian players, Olivia Cooke, is excited to get to play in the colder weather.
“I think the new Canadians are excited,” Schilte-Brown joked. “The returning Canadians, I think, quickly have acclimated to liking the warmer weather.”
The Bulls will look to advance to the third round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history against a stout opponent in FSU, which is dominant at home in the postseason. Even with statistics piled against them, USF is undeterred.
“I think each of us has to enter the game with a clean slate, saying ‘hey, they’re a good team, but we’re a great team too,’” Schilte-Brown said. “As long as we play the game that we’re capable of playing, that’s what the result will be…I think the moment to step up will be at game time.”