What a weekend for the USF women’s soccer team.
With two absolute must-win games and their backs to the wall, the Bulls defeated Southern Miss 1-0 in double overtime on Senior Night Friday, then came out and beat UAB 2-1 in double overtime Sunday. The weekend was particularly crucial, as the Bulls needed to win both games in hopes of securing a berth in the conference tournament.
With the two victories, the Bulls moved over .500 for the first time since Sept. 15 with an (8-7-2) record.
Picked to finish No. 11 out of the 14 teams in preseason voting, USF notched its first ever win at West Campus Stadium Stadium in Birmingham, Ala. With the victory, the Bulls stand at 4-4-2 in the conference and are currently No. 6 in the standings. However, now the Bulls have to sit and wait as this week’s matches will tell whether they make the trip to Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 6-9.
From the start, UAB looked as if it would roll. Adrienne Suffridge scored in the seventh minute to put the Blazers up 1-0. Blazers goalkeeper Lisa Nowoslawski was knocked out in a collision in the 36th minute and would not return. Midfielder Aimey Disko came in to finish the game for UAB.
In the 66th minute, senior Aleia Long knotted it up with her fourth goal of the year. Running down the left side of the field, Long chipped a left-footed cross that went over Disko for her third goal in four games.
Tied 1-1, both teams were unable to knock in the game-winner as the match headed to overtime. The Blazers’ defense would get the better of the Bulls, holding them to no shots in the first overtime. With 10 minutes left in what could be the last game of the year, the Bulls found their second wind.
Nailing three shots in six minutes, USF finally broke through. Off a pass from sophomore Stacci Sastre, Kim Martins took one touch, settled and fired a shot that just eluded the hand of a diving Disko. It was Martins’ third goal of the year.
On Friday night, seniors Long, Alicia Bostain, Tia Opliger, Kristin Scotland, Erin Sharpe and Michele Upham were recognized before the final home match of their careers. Playing before a crowd of 283 on a clear night, the team’s play was antsy.
“We were playing with too much emotion in the first half,” coach Logan Fleck said. “They were thinking about the seniors, and I think they knew in the second half that they had to play and that the time was ticking.”
The second half continued scoreless. With 9:30 left, Opliger had a chance to win the game as she collected a loose ball and ripped the shot, but it went just wide and high. Then, with less than two minutes to play, Opliger received a pass after a set play, but her shot went high again. Just like that, the team was headed into its second overtime match of the year.
In the first overtime, the Bulls came running out the gate, blasting four shots on goal. Freshman Katie Reed nailed a shot that hit the post and bounced to the feet of Opliger, but her shot went over the net. Less than 30 seconds later, Martins delivered a fine pass to a streaking Opliger, but her header went to the arms of Schoeplein.
With three minutes left, sophomore Rachel Thjomoe had a one-on-one, but her shot cleared the post. It looked like the team was going to come away with a tie for the match, but two minutes into the second overtime, Opliger, with her seventh shot of the night, headed home a corner kick from Martins for her eighth and biggest goal of the year. The players stormed the field and mobbed Opliger as they pulled off their first overtime win of the year.
“Flecky said before the game in the locker room that he didn’t care if we won or lost, he just wanted to know that everyone would leave it all on the field,” Opliger said. “We didn’t play our best soccer tonight, but everyone came out with 110 percent tonight. They played with heart and effort.”
Afterward, Fleck had more than enough to say about his squad and Opliger.
“Opliger showed tonight what USF tradition is all about. She’s a great leader, and we will not replace that kid,” Fleck said. “I’ve never been prouder of a team. I absolutely have been nothing but impressed with the way our team has matured and taken responsibility for things on the field.”
Thomas Carrigan covers USF women’s soccer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org