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No. 17 USF women’s soccer defeats Houston, extends win streak

USF goalkeeper Sydney Martinez prepares to punt a ball during the second half against Houston on Oct. 18. Martinez made four saves in the Bulls' 3-2 victory against the Cougars. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

No. 17 USF women’s soccer team defeated Houston 3-2 in a high-scoring, high-tension match Thursday night at Corbett Stadium. After back-to-back victories at Tulsa last Thursday and at Memphis last Sunday, the Bulls returned home with a narrow win, continuing their now five-match winning streak.

The early first half of the match was a passing game — both the Bulls (11-2-0, 6-1-0) and the Cougars (7-8-2, 3-3-1) battled at midfield for possession of the ball in the first 45 minutes.

USF broke the stalemate in the 36th minute when Sydney Nasello set up an ambitious pass to Sabrina Wagner who headed it past Houston keeper Rachel Estopare for her first goal of the season.

The Cougars answered USF’s goal in the second half after Houston forward Jazmin Grant fired a shot past Bulls keeper Sydney Martinez for Houston.

The Bulls retook the lead minutes later after Sydney Nasello delivered a well-timed shot into Houston’s net for USF’s second goal of the match and Nasello’s first goal in a conference match.

Houston’s Desiree Bowen tied the match in the 63rd minute after she fired a shot to Sydney Martinez who made the initial save, however, an unfortunate goalkeeper error allowed the ball roll just past the line into the Bull’s net.

Another goal fell in when Andrea Hauksdottir delivered a free kick to Sabrina Wagner who made a low cross to Aubrey Megrath, who tapped the ball in for the Bulls’ third goal of the match in the 68th minute. Coach Denise Schilte-Brown expressed nothing but praise for Megrath’s ability to create attacking chances.

“[Megrah] does so many sacrificial runs to open up the field for everybody else and come back and help in transition,” Schilte-Brown said. “The whole team is so happy when she scores.”

The Cougars made an attempt to level up the game in the 69th minute when Natalie Anderson dribbled past Sydney Martinez, who charged out of the goal to make the save. With the net empty, Houston looked likely to tie the match until freshman defender Mia Palango stepped in front of goal and made a clearance with her head to keep the Bulls’ lead.

“In that moment I saw [Sydney] going out so I knew I had to come cover the goal because I knew she was out of goal,” Palango said. “[It was] just instincts I guess.”

Despite the win, Schilte-Brown was critical of the team’s performance in the second half of the match.

“We opened up space in the middle and the game started to unravel for us,” she said. “There were moments where we took the momentum back by scoring a goal but I think they kept a bit of fear in us and that didn’t allow us to play the game that we were playing earlier.”

Despite the Bulls’ shaky performance in the second half, Schilte-Brown was proud of the team’s ability to keep its composure and hold the lead, ultimately resulting in a hard-fought win.

The Bulls remain confident at the top of the AAC table, however, Schilte-Brown and the team remain focused, despite their top performances in recent matches.

“It’s a target on our back. If you start to think about [being the top team] you lose focus on what’s important,” she said. “One step at a time…you don’t look beyond that. If you do, you won’t make it to the next step; you fall.”

The Bulls face off against SMU on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Corbett stadium and against UCF next Friday for the final home game of the regular season.