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Bulls’ comeback falls short

ORACLE FILE PHOTO/TONY GORDON

The USF women’s soccer team fell short in its comeback against Illinois State University (ISU), as it suffered a 3-2 loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

For the second time in the program’s history, the qualified for the NCAA tournament. The last time the team made it into the NCAA tournament was in the fall of 2010 when it lost to Auburn in the second round, 3-1.

“I’ve been really proud of this team all year,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “It was a special team in terms of the characters and the way they came together and how the seniors assumed leadership. It was a selfless group, and I was really proud of them all year.”

ISU was first on the score sheet with three straight goals. The first goal came from the middle of the box as ISU midfielder Dagny Olson received a pass from teammate Rachel Tejada and powered a dipping shot over USF goalkeeper Katarina Elliott.

The next goal came just five minutes later when ISU midfielder Kelli Zickert sent a cross into the box. Leading scorer Tejada headed the ball toward Elliott’s left post. 

The Redbirds’ final goal came in the second half when Olson dribbled down the right side on a counterattack and made a cut into the middle to give a pass to Tejada, who was unmarked. Tejada easily put it past Elliott for her 20th goal of the season.

USF’s attempted comeback began in the 57th minute, when sophomore forward Leticia Skeete scored a rebound shot by Olivia Chance that ISU goalkeeper Aryn Newsom could not keep in her clutch.

“We never gave up hope,” Skeete said. “When that goal went in, everyone’s energy just lifted and everyone kept fighting until that final whistle. It was a hard-fought game and I was excited to score. I was excited that it was a team goal and everyone helped out.”

USF junior defender Diana Saenz scored her first goal of the season in the 70th minute to give the Bulls even more momentum late in the game. 

Junior midfielder Olivia Chance dribbled the ball from the left side across he box and gave a pass to Saenz about 12 yards in front of the goal. Saenz then shot just past Newsom toward her left post, into the goal.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of them than I was in the last 45 minutes of the game,” Schilte-Brown said. “Just to see the courage and the guts that the girls had to try to win the game, I was really happy for them.”

With only four seniors currently on the team, 27 players should be set to return for next year to make a run further into the tournament.

“This is the second time in the program’s history that we’ve gotten to this point,” Schilte-Brown said. “I think you grow as a coach and you grow as a program and you learn from this. If any of the members of the team who are returning are happy with what we’ve accomplished and are satisfied, then that’s as far as they’ll go. I don’t see this school being a first-round NCAA team; I believe it’s a team that can get much further. (This program) is talented, it’s Tampa, Florida, it’s the USF Bulls, we’re going to get more.”