The scene could not have been set more perfectly for a senior class of 11 playing for the last time in their home, Corbett Soccer Stadium, in a 2-2 tie with the visiting Cincinnati Bearcats.
Flags representing the nations of Norway, Jamaica, Canada and Mexico were draped on posts upon the berm opposite the stands in tribute to the seniors representing their respective countries as USF Bulls.
The match was preceded by a ceremony honoring the seniors, with parents or other stand-ins accompanying each graduating player to mid-field to accept a framed jersey commemorating their time spent at USF.
“We’re just really close to the senior group; we love them dearly,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “I feel very much a part of this team, not like I coach on the outside looking in … and that only comes from the right group of seniors.
“I know that my relationship with them goes beyond the soccer field and that’s far more important than the wins and losses, but in this moment, the win definitely would have felt nice for them and the program. ”
To make the match with the Cincinnati Bearcats even more meaningful, the game will certainly go a long way to determining whether either team will be eligible for the AAC postseason tournament. With six of the 10 teams in the conference qualifying for the postseason tournament, both USF (fifth) and Cincinnati (sixth) will need a strong final push with the season wrapping up this week.
Early on, it appeared that the Bulls’ postseason birth might be in danger, as the Bearcats’ Vanessa Gilles took advantage of a volley-opportunity after a USF defender deflected a Cincinnati shot. The ball lingered in the air, and Gilles connected on her right foot, sending the ball rocketing past Bulls goalkeeper Kat Elliott.
However, despair for Bulls players and fans would not last long, as freshman forward Evelyne Viens stepped into her increasingly frequent role as saver of days. She weaved through the Bearcats’ defense, cutting from left to right just outside the box and eventually unleashing a flat, driven shot across the goal face and into the back right netting, sneaking the ball just below the crossbar.
Both teams capitalized when they got opportunities to add to the goal count in the first half, with Cincinnati’s Natalie Smith recording the only save of the half.
The second half became a game of back and forth, each team exchanging a series of corner kicks and thwarted shots within close range of the opponent’s goal. With so much riding on the outcome, the teams took on an increasingly aggressive posture as time trickled off of the clock.
Late in the second half, the usual suspect quelled the suspense.
It was Viens, again, who would add her 2nd goal of the match and team-leading 14th of the season in the 76th minute to break the deadlock, giving the Bulls a one-goal lead with little time left in the match.
However, that little time would prove just enough for the Bearcats, as midfielder Jaycie Brown put a parabola-like shot into the net as the USF goalkeeper could only watch it drop just inside the left post and into the net siding, leading to overtime. The goal would prove deflating to a USF squad on the verge of victory.
“It was hard to come back on the field and just give everything we had,” Viens said. “I think we need to come out and give more energy even if we’re tired.”
The two 10-minute overtime periods would not produce any scoring or serious threats to either goalkeeper, leaving both the Bulls and Bearcats uncertain of their status as it pertains to the AAC conference tournament beginning Nov. 2.