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Time running out for seniors

With the kind of start the USF women’s soccer team has had this season, it would be easy for the Bulls to pack it in and wait until 2005.

The team could bounce back; the young players are resilient and coach Logan Fleck has seen it all before in his nearly 20 years of coaching soccer.

But for six seniors on the team, including three of the most dominant players in Conference USA, this year is all that’s left.

A 2-0 loss to FSU on Tuesday was the Bulls’ (1-5-2) third straight — their fifth consecutive game without a win. USF has failed to score a goal in 325 minutes of play and finds itself in need of wins if it hopes to make the conference tournament.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

In 2003, Fleck took a team of wide-eyed youngsters with 11 freshmen, 8 sophomores and only 10 upperclassmen (picked to finish 10th in Conference USA) to the regular season C-USA title game. The team spent half the season looking for an identity but found it — and overachieved more than even Fleck thought was possible.

After the season, USF lost its lone senior, Rachel Thjomoe, and added a few players, including FSU transfer Erica Lewis, who leads the team in scoring.It seemed like the only thing USF could do was improve.

“We expected to be undefeated in conference, unstoppable and to be able to handle our in-state foes,” goalkeeper Breck Bankester said. “It’s turned out that we’ve made mistakes.”

Instead, the Bulls must win at least five of their last 8 games to finish in the top eight in C-USA and make the post-season tournament.

Bankester said she does not even want to think about not making the C-USA tournament in her final season.

“That’s kind of hard to think about,” she said. “It’s nothing that we even want to accept right now. That’s not going to happen.”

In addition to Bankester, 2003 third-team All-Conference defender Stacci Sastre, team leader Tara Escribano, Christine Koester, Tiffany Toale and Laura Tucker will all graduate after this season.

The younger players are beginning to sense how much the season means to the seniors, junior Jenny Mulvihill said.

“A lot of the younger girls are working hard so we can send the seniors out on a good note,” Mulvihill said. “There are just a lot of good people who are graduating that make an impact. It’s going to be hard seeing them go, so it gives everybody more motivation to work hard for them.”

For the seniors, a sense of urgency seems evident.

“It’s do or die right now,” Escribano said.

Fleck stays positive. This team is better than last year’s team, he said. He tells his team that no one cares what your record is when they put the word champion in front of your name.

“I tell them my joy in life is proving people wrong,” he said.

It turns out Fleck is in luck — if USF can pull itself out of the hole it has created and make the C-USA tournament, he will prove a lot of people wrong.