Every team needs that special something to put them over the top.
Freshman midfielder Laura Engel’s presence might do just that for the women’s soccer team.
After missing the first 13 games of the regular season while recovering from a broken bone in her foot, the former Gatorade Colorado Soccer Player of the Year has already made an impact on the field.
She almost scored her first collegiate career goal during her second game back Sunday against Cincinnati. Engel was alone on a breakaway and sent a shot just wide of the net.
The explosiveness came as no surprise to the team.
“Laura is someone that anytime she has the ball, she can be explosive,” coach Logan Fleck said. “She will be scoring goals for South Florida.”
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Bulls are in fifth place of the American Division in the Big East. Ten teams from the Big East make the Tournament but if the Bulls want to host a postseason match, this weekend presents must-wins against St. John’s and Syracuse.
Both teams are in the American Division and St. John’s holds the fourth and final home seed for the Big East Tournament. Improving on their 3-3 conference record would be vital for the Bulls.
“I just hope to help my teammates and look forward to helping them win games,” Engel said. “The upcoming games are really big for us and I think we can get some wins.”
With the team close to making another postseason appearance and with forward Ebony Robinson and midfielder Autumn Browning being gone due to injuries, Engel decided to come back early.
“Having her come in and play is a tremendous boost for us,” forward Lindsay Brauer said. “I wish she could have come back before but it really helps and hopefully she can bounce back quickly.”
Unfortunately for Engel, missing playing time is nothing new to her. She originally broke her foot during her junior year of high school and then sat out her senior season after breaking the same bone. She wanted to make sure it healed correctly, so she continued to sit out during the early portion of her first season as a Bull.
Brauer knows all about the frustration of sitting out a season. The junior missed all of last season because the University of Tennessee refused to sign a waiver allowing her to play for USF.
“I just told (Laura) to hang in there because I know how tough it is to be sitting out,” Brauer said. “She’s handled everything well and has been learning everything she can about the team.”
Engel began this season absorbing everything she could from Fleck and just trying to figure out collegiate soccer.
“I was at every practice and every game just listening to whatever coach Fleck was saying,” Engel said. “He made sure I was focused. I would watch game tape with him and kept up on my rehab.”
Fleck strongly recruited Engel because of her athletic ability and willingness to sacrifice herself for the team. He has been impressed with how focused she has been on returning to the field.
“She has an absolutely great attitude, one of sheer determination and willpower,” Fleck said. “When others would have given up she didn’t. Laura has one of the strongest resolves I’ve seen.”
After starting the season strong, the Bulls have struggled as of late, posting a record of 2-8 in their last 10 games.
Injuries and fatigue have forced Fleck to shuffle his starting lineup each game. Although Engel hasn’t started yet, there is a possibility she will this weekend.
Still a little sore and not fully conditioned, Engel saw 77 minutes of play during the two games this weekend. She quickly figured out the hardest part of returning to the playing field.
“The toughest part about coming back is trying to fit into the team’s chemistry,” Engel said. “With only four games left it’s difficult to adjust to the team, especially never playing with them.”
With two games remaining, Fleck feels that if his team is able to win both and get a home game for the Big East Tournament, it has a great chance of earning its first NCAA Tournament berth.
“Beating a tough St. John’s team up in New York would be huge,” Fleck said. “We need to find the back of the net and I think (Laura) will definitely be one of our catalysts.”