USF women’s soccer falls to Cincinnati in penalty kicks, ending quest for AAC title

USF junior midfielder Jordyn Listero watches in disbelief as Cincinnati celebrates its victory over the Bulls in penalty kicks Sunday to claim the American Athletic Conference title.

Three months ago, USF women’s soccer coach Denise Schilte-Brown stood behind a cherry-wood podium and spoke of the pain her team had endured.

Time seemed to have faded a loss to Connecticut in penalty kicks during last November’s AAC championship tournament final into a distant memory for fans. But the sting of defeat still lingered around the team. 

Schilte-Brown hoped it wouldn’t happen again.

“I’ve spoken to them many times about how they felt,” Schilte-Brown said in August. “I mean, it does not feel good the way that we lost — our home field, PKs. It couldn’t have been a better set up for us to win.”

On Sunday afternoon — in virtually the same situation as a season ago — it did. 

Despite holding a one-goal lead over fourth-seeded Cincinnati with fewer than three minutes remaining, the No. 2-seed Bulls couldn’t hold on, drawing 1-1 in regulation before falling 4-2 after five rounds of penalty kicks in Dallas.

It was the fourth consecutive conference tournament in which USF (15-3-3) has been eliminated on penalties, dating back to its days in the Big East.

“When you get to PKs, it’s somewhat of a coin toss,” Schilte-Brown said. “ … The girls had trained for it, but you can never account for nerves in that moment. It’s not easy. There was a lot at stake and the girls wanted it very badly.”

Things started well for the Bulls as senior midfielder Olivia Chance broke a scoreless tie in the 59th minute on a shot from 18 yards out that banked off the crossbar before falling past the line for a goal. 

USF sophomore goalkeeper Kat Elliott, a Bradenton native, then did her best to hold off a flurry of chances by the Bearcats (13-5-5) from there, including a shot that clanked off the post by Julie Gavorski in the 81st minute.

Cincinnati finally broke through, however, when Jaycie Brown flipped a shot over Elliott seven minutes later for the equalizer. During the play, junior defender Carlotta Fennefoss slammed into the goal post trying to clear the ball and was taken off the field on a stretcher. Schilte-Brown said Fennefoss did not sustain any fractures or ligament damage.

Neither team had many chances in either overtime period, leading to penalty kicks. Leticia Skeete and Grace Adams both found the back of the net in the session, but junior forward Trudi Carter was stopped by Cincinnati keeper Kaleigh Piscioneri. AJ Blount, a former Wiregrass Ranch High standout, hit the post on USF’s final attempt.

“There were times I felt we were managing the game well and we were on top of them, and there were times where it came loose,” Schilte-Brown said.

Now, the Bulls look toward the NCAA Tournament, where the brackets will be unveiled today at 4:30. With a conference title now in the rear-view mirror, Schilte-Brown hopes her team can put the defeat behind it too.

“Obviously, you can be sad because it was a big opportunity that we weren’t able to take advantage of,” she said. “But we don’t want them to be too caught up in the moment … because this is a really strong team with really great potential to make a great run.”