Too fast, too soon

The 2006 season was filled with highs and lows for the women’s soccer team.

After a strong start to the season, the Bulls (6-10-1, 3-8) stalled once Big East Conference play began.

USF began the season 4-0-1, the best start since 1998, when the team won its first nine games to open the season. The offense seemed unstoppable.

This year, the Bulls took 80 shots in 5 games and averaged 2.6 goals per game.

It appeared as if USF was beginning a special season, especially after a 1-0 victory over No. 23 Marquette in its first Big East Conference game of the season. Last year, USF dropped its first eight conference games before defeating Cincinnati 3-2.

Forward Lindsay Brauer emerged as the Bulls offensive catalyst, scoring seven goals and recording two assists in the first five games of the year. The junior recorded her first career hat trick against South Alabama during the second game of the season.

After winning their second Big East game of the season 2-0 against Providence, the rest of the season would be marked with offensive struggles.

The turning point of the year came on a season-long, three-game road trip against conference foes Seton Hall, Rutgers and Connecticut.

USF was outscored 12-1 and outshot 47-15 in that span. The Bulls closed the three-game set with their worst loss of the season, 5-0 to the Scarlet Knights.

Once the team returned home, the Bulls tightened up defensively. For the final six games of the season, USF allowed only seven goals. But the effort only produced one win: a 2-1 overtime victory over Pittsburgh.

The best game of the year may have been USF’s 1-0 overtime loss to No. 17 Louisville. Although the team dropped the game, the Bulls registered six shots on goal and played excellent defense. The lone goal came off a header that bounced just past goalkeeper Casey Garrett.

“I thought that was one of our really good games; we really took it to them,” Brauer said. “It’s tough losing on a goal like that because it wasn’t a great one and it didn’t show how the game really went.”

Despite the struggles in conference play, the Bulls still had a chance to make their first Big East Tournament appearance.

USF was unable to capitalize as Louisville began a streak of four straight 1-0 losses to close the season for USF. Pittsburgh jumped past USF in the standings during the season’s final weekend and the Bulls failed to qualify for the Big East Tournament for the second straight year.

During the final 12 games of the year, USF only attempted 98 shots and their scoring average dropped to .41 goals per game.

“We faced some tough defenses in the Big East and as the season wore on, the competition was a lot harder,” Brauer said. “The season was easier in the beginning so it is no surprise that our shots dropped that much.”

Out of 16 Big East teams, USF’s record was better than only Providence, Georgetown and DePaul, and tied with Cincinnati.

“Ultimate frustration, really that is the ultimate frustration,” coach Logan Fleck said. “Any loss is tough, but (this year’s) 1-0 losses really kept us out of the Big East Tournament.”

For the season, the Bulls can take away two accomplishments. They won one more Big East game than last season and Brauer established herself as one of the top players in the conference.

Brauer finished the season leading the Bulls in nearly every offensive category: goals (9), assists (4), points (22), shots (53), shots on goal (27) and game-winning goals (3).

“Even though this year we struggled, we gained a lot of experience and will have a deeper team next year,” Fleck said. “It took me three years to turn the men’s soccer team around, and next season will be my third in the Big East. So I have a lot of confidence heading into next season.”

Next season the Bulls hope to qualify for their first conference tournament since 2003, when USF was a member of Conference USA and their first winning season since 1999 when the team went 11-8.

Brauer feels that, for the team to improve, the Bulls must demand more from themselves.

“I hope our team can just realize the potential that we have,” Brauer said. “Everyone needs to come back and really work hard during this off-season. I’m excited to see who is going to step up and not accept what happened this season.”