No. 24 USF outlasts Tulsa despite travel difficulties
TULSA, Okla. — After a travel day full of headaches, No. 24 USF women’s soccer bounced back Thursday, defeating Tulsa 2-1 at the Hurricane Soccer & Track Stadium in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Bulls faced some difficulties getting from Tampa to Tulsa on Wednesday. What should have been a straightforward group trip turned into a situation where the team wound up split from each other along the way.
“It’s funny — we had two different flight groups,” defender Kelli Burney said. “I happened to be on the flight group that only had two flights, got there pretty quickly and was able to practice. But another group had a couple plane flights and it took them just about all day to get there. By the time we were done eating dinner after practice, they came in.”
The problem that caused the travel difficulties was the team’s flight departing Tampa — which was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. — being canceled due to mechanical issues, according to a USF representative. Because of other travel issues arising from Hurricane Michael making landfall in the Florida Panhandle, the only way to get the team to Tulsa was splitting it into two flight groups — with one group arriving at 3:30 p.m. and the other at 8 p.m.
“It really was kind of crazy,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “But when you have the mindset that you came for a job and it doesn’t matter what they’re going to throw at you, you’re going to get the job done — you have to be really proud. They’re not pros yet, but they have a professional mentality, so it’s nice.”
Once the travel drama was a thing of the past, the Bulls didn’t miss a beat, scoring two early goals against the Golden Hurricane.
Burney opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a header off a corner kick by Andrea Hauksdottir. Burney’s goal was her second of the season.
“My first couple of years here, I didn’t really have the opportunity to get in the box too much,” Burney said. “They’re finally giving me the opportunity, so I’m just pretty hungry for it and I’m glad to be able to get on the back of it.”
In the 25th minute, defender Brianna Blethen connected from 18 yards out to give the Bulls a 2-0 lead. Sydny Nasello and Hauksdottir recorded assists on Blethen’s third goal of the season.
The Bulls dominated for most of the first half — USF collected 13 shots in the first half, while Tulsa was only able to to take three.
The second half was a bit more evenly matched than the first. Each team had its share of chances, though neither was able to score from the run of play during the final 45 minutes.
Tulsa’s only goal of the game came on a penalty kick in the 75th minute. The Golden Hurricane’s Anna Williams beat goalkeeper Sydney Martinez, cutting the Bulls’ lead to one goal.
The Bulls survived a flurry of attempts to attack by Tulsa following the penalty — USF did not allow another shot from the Golden Hurricane after the goal.
“I was proud of the team,” Schilte-Brown said. “[Tulsa] scored the goal and my team didn’t get direct. We tried to keep control of the game. It felt to me like Sydny Nasello came to life and kind of took over the game at times. I thought [Hauksdottir] and my centerbacks … had great confidence on the ball at that time. We made some really smart decisions in the final minutes.”
The victory helps keep USF toward the top of the AAC table as the regular season winds down. The Bulls are tied with both Memphis and UCF at 12 points.
Next up for USF is a trip to Graceland to take on the Memphis Tigers on Sunday at 2 p.m. Memphis is coming off a 2-0 loss to UCF on Thursday.
Schilte-Brown said her team is set to head into Memphis relatively fresh, as only five players — including Martinez — played the full 90 minutes in Tulsa.
“I was really happy that we got to rest some players,” Schilte-Brown said. “It’s going to be good, because this is one heck of a trip. You fly [to Tulsa] then you fly there. … I’m sure UCF and Memphis battled to the end, so I’m going to help [the team] get the mindset that, ‘They’re more tired.’ Every game matters in this conference — we’ve just got to put our best foot forward.”