USF will attempt to defend title in 2018

It’s hard to top a championship season, but that’s just what the Bulls will attempt to do in 2018.

USF is coming off one of the best seasons in program history, outscoring its opponents 36-21 en route to a 13-4-2 record, which included its first ever AAC Tournament championship and its second-ever appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulls return 20 players, including nine starters, from the 2017 conference championship team. Thanks to that experience, coach Denise Schilte-Brown said she feels good about her team heading into this season.

“I think it’s great,” Schilte-Brown said about her team’s experience. “It definitely feels more of a veteran team, in terms of when you’re trying to get training points across. We’re letting it move a little bit faster and then the freshmen are picking it up because the upperclassmen understand it …  You can speed up your tactics a little bit.”

USF received votes in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll and was picked second in the AAC Coaches’ Poll. Additionally, juniors Evelyne Viens and Andrea Hauksdottir were named to the AAC Preseason All-Conference Team. Schilte-Brown isn’t letting the preseason accolades go to her team’s collective head, though.

“It’s one of those things where you’d be happy to be picked last,” Schilte-Brown said. “You finish first or second and everybody in the conference is dying to beat you. So, for me, I don’t put much stock into it. I like it for our fans … but on the flip side of us, it’s not something we put any stock into.”

One of the more notable departures was goalkeeper Kat Elliott. Elliott started all 19 games for the Bulls in 2017, recording five shutouts and a career-high 83 saves. Elliott made a critical save in penalty kicks in the AAC Tournament against UCF that helped lead to USF’s AAC championship.

Freshman Sydney Martinez and sophomore Ricquelle Farquharson enter the season as the two goalkeepers on the USF roster. Farquharson backed up Elliott in 2017, appearing in four games and made four saves, while Martinez was the team captain for her varsity team at Effingham County High School in Springfield, Georgia.

“Both (Farquharson and Martinez) are doing well,” Schilte-Brown said. “They’re both courageous. Their attempt to play with a team that is at the level that we’re at, I think, is brave. They’re going to make mistakes and we all know that, so I don’t think we’re all going to panic when they make a little mistake. And I expect mistakes early, but I think both of them are going to be good down the road.”

The Bulls began their season with a 2-1 overtime win against Towson on Thursday and fell to Auburn 2-1 on Sunday. Sophomore Fanny Pelletier-Laroche was the hero against Towson, recording her first career goal in overtime to lift the Bulls to a come-from-behind victory in the season opener.

“(A win like this) gives us hope,” Pelletier-Laroche said after the Towson victory. “It gives us energy to keep moving forward. Our hashtag this year is #RiseUp. This game, we didn’t do what we could have done, so we just have to rise up again.”

USF continues its season Friday at 7 p.m. against No. 15 Baylor at Corbett Stadium.