USF women’s soccer stressing importance of focus heading into home opener

The USF women’s soccer team captured its second NCAA Tournament berth last season. The Bulls hope having a sharper focus will help them get there again. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/TONY GORDON

Heading into double overtime last Friday, tied 1-1 with a tough Baylor team, the USF women’s soccer team had two options — open its season with a strong road victory, or suffer yet another difficult loss.

Last season, the Bulls suffered a demoralizing 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Illinois State, ending their first NCAA Tournament run since 2010. But doing so set forth a mentality that this season would be much different.

USF was able to stave off the Bears with an unassisted goal by senior midfielder Olivia Chance, securing a season-opening victory and furthering the mindset.

“Once we had the goal scored on us, we were really determined to win that game,” junior forward Leticia Skeete said. “And we did, with the big comeback in overtime … I think we kept our heads in check. We didn’t allow their style of play to dictate how we wanted to play soccer and I feel like we all rallied with each other.” 

Skeete, who was second on the team with eight goals in 2014, said the bar is set at returning to the tournament for the third time in program history, but the mindset is different. They can’t expect to be there, they have to earn it as a unit.

“(Our identity) is the same as last year’s,” Skeete said. “We’re one team. We have one goal and we have one fight and that’s for each other. So, I think that’s what we’re going to stick to and that’s what we’ve been doing so far.”

Ninth-year coach Denise Schilte-Brown stressed the important role that the mental game has in the sport as the Bulls head into Friday’s home opener against with Long Island University-Brooklyn. Schilte-Brown said the team needs to be mentally prepared for any environment it might play in.

“I think the girls listened to the type and style of the team they would see (in Baylor) and I think they were mentally prepared from the whistle, and that’s not something you normally see,” she said. 

Although USF will play in the confines of Corbett Stadium for its 5 p.m. game with LIU, the outlook stays the same.

“We need to remember that every game is different and we have to prepare for LIU just like we prepared for Baylor,” Skeete said. “Even though we’re going to take some aspects from the scouting report about LIU, it’s still about us and we need to focus on what we do best.”

For USF, LIU is a bit of a mystery team. The Bulls have never faced the Blackbirds in program history.

Schilte-Brown said it is hard to gauge how the team will look — with only LIU only having played one preseason game so far, a 2-0 victory over Iona — but knows the region and expects a physical match.

“When you’re from New York, the types of personalities there are a little bit blunter and in general are a little bit more physical than we’re used to,” Schilte-Brown said. “Coming from Baylor was a good test for that, and I feel like we’ll be prepared. But New York teams are usually blue-collar, hard-working and organized teams and we expect tough competition.”

USF returns 16 players, including nine starters, who appeared in games last season. Schilte-Brown knows the experience of this year’s squad will be USF’s key to advancing to the tournament.

“It’s just the small details. We have a lot of returners and they know what we want,” she said. “Tactically they are very tuned in, but it’s just the details of everything, whether it’s speed of play or marking or attacking in the box and all of those things that we will continue to hone in on, but no glaring problems.”