Bulls gain needed victory

With only one point in conference play, the USF women’s soccer team needed to win at least one game this weekend to keep their Conference USA tournament bid alive.

Mission accomplished.

Despite losing to Tulane 1-0 Friday, the Bulls (5-7-1, 1-4-1 in C-USA) got their win Sunday, shutting out Memphis 2-0 at home.

“I am absolutely proud of the way they came out,” USF coach Logan Fleck said. “Everything they did wasn’t perfect, but the effort level and intensity on a Sunday game could’ve come down, but it wasn’t.”

In the 10th minute, Tia Opliger got things started for the Bulls with her fifth goal of the year. Sophomore Kim Martins hit a looping corner kick to a diving Opliger. Opliger’s initial header was denied by a Tigers defender, but Opliger took her own rebound and blasted a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Katarina Wicksell into the back of the net. Fifteen minutes later, Breirem almost doubled the lead with a breakaway towards the net. With the one-on-one, freshman Berna Breirem nailed a shot to the left side, only to have it deflected by a diving Wicksell. With less than a minute remaining in the half, Opliger had a chance for her second goal of the match, but her header off the foot of Martins was right to the hands of Wicksell.

In the 56th minute, Martins scored her second goal of the year off an assist from freshman Katie Reed. Feeding from a pass from Long, her shot was deflected by the keeper, but Martins just stretched out and knocked it in for the goal.

As time was winding down, Memphis made a late charge. However, the Tigers were stuffed by the USF defense. In a span of a couple minutes, goalkeeper Breck Bankester made several stops as she notched her third shutout of the year.

“(Defender) Kristin Scotland stepped it up. She did a great job and tackled very well,” Fleck said. “Lyndrea Sutherland came in and did a good job, while Erin Sharpe came in and did her bit.”

However, there was a scary moment for the Bulls in the game. With 11 minutes left, Opliger was knocked to the ground and didn’t get up. Fleck and trainer Lisa Osterbrock rushed to her aid, and after a couple motionless minutes, Opliger was back on her feet.

“She was on the ground when a kid inadvertantly kicked her in the head,” Fleck said. “She was hurt enough that she couldn’t come back into the game.”

Before 157 fans on a humid, cloudless Friday night, USF looked sluggish. The Bulls only had four shots and one corner kick in the first half.

“We did not bring our (emotions) to this game,” Fleck said. “Our intensity level was about 70-80 percent, and we almost still pulled the game out.”

From the start of the first half, USF looked as it would get on the board early. Ten minutes into the game, Martins distributed a well placed ball to junior Christin Chandler, whose shot went right. Eight minutes later, another opportunity was thwarted as Breirem found a streaking Rachel Thjomoe, but her shot went to the left.

Then, in the 25th minute, Tulane broke through. A gaggle of the Green Wave’s forwards were in USF’s box, and they couldn’t get the ball past the defensive line. A loose ball popped out and freshman Jessica Mendez pounced on it, booting it past Bankester, in what turned out to be the lone goal of the match.

“I told the team that this was the most disappointing and frustrating game of the year,” Fleck said. “We really had enough in us to beat this team. I think if we got one goal tonight, we could’ve gotten four.”

Despite the loss, Fleck was most pleased with Opliger and freshman Dani Malkin.

“Tia absolutely showed why she’s the team captain. She made all the runs forward and back and she was flicking balls to people,” Fleck said. “I was pleased with Dani Malkin. It was her first start of the year as a freshman. She marked up (Tulane’s) Mandy Schumacher and did a very, very good job.”