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No. 11 USF looks to keep momentum entering AAC tournament

USF women’s soccer takes the field at Corbett Stadium again Friday as the top seed looking to defend its AAC title. ORACLE PHOTO/SAM NEWLON

After a regular season where it lost only two games and finished on a seven-game win-streak, No. 11 USF women’s soccer (13-2-0, 8-1-0) will look to keep the good times rolling in the AAC Tournament this week.

The No. 1-seed Bulls host the tournament for the first time since the AAC’s inception in 2013, after coming close a few times. The most notable close-call came last year, when USF needed a win against UCF and wound up drawing with the Knights, sending the 2017 tournament to Orlando — where USF won the AAC tournament title.

“It feels good,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said about winning the regular season title. “It’s always an accomplishment. We’ve been runner-up like four times. It’s a really nice thing for a coach, because the tournament title is great … but the regular season, it’s such a grind. You really can’t falter.”

The magnitude of playing a few more games at Corbett Stadium, a site where USF has not lost to an AAC opponent since Sept. 29, 2016, is not lost on Schilte-Brown’s Bulls.

“It’s Corbett Stadium — we have great supporters,” Schilte-Brown said. “We have the Goalmouths — they’re like this amazing fan group. Not many female soccer college teams have a great fan base like we do, with the supporters that come out. They’re there for us game in and game out.

“It’s our locker room. We have our strength coach — it’s our training room. The familiarity, I think, helps with the triggering [of] mental success.”

In the process of securing the No. 1 seed in the tournament, the Bulls enjoyed a record-setting season from junior forward Evelyne Viens.

Viens, the conference’s leading scorer, broke the program’s all-time goal record Oct. 14 against Memphis and the single-season goal record Oct. 21 against SMU. She finished the regular season second in the nation with 18 goals, two behind Boise State’s Raimee Sherle.

“That’s the difference [when making a run in the tournament], you need a goal scorer that’s giving you like between 15 and 20 goals in a season,” Schilte-Brown said. “When you have a goal scorer like that, then your team has a chance to win.”

Freshman goalkeeper Sydney Martinez has been a breakout star, recording six shutouts and allowing only 10 goals in 14 games.

“I did expect Sydney to be great,” Schilte-Brown said. “She was a highly recruited athlete and we followed her early. We were really excited to get her and I think we knew the talent we were going to get. She’s just getting started.”

No. 4 ECU beat No. 5 SMU in penalty kicks Wednesday night. The Bulls will take on ECU on Friday at 7 p.m. The Bulls defeated both teams from Wednesday’s match at home during the regular season by a combined score of 9-1.

Still, Schilte-Brown isn’t taking anything lightly.

“There’s a bias because you’ve played a team,” Schilte-Brown said. “There’s a bias in how they’re going to perform and what they’re going to do and what to expect. And you want your team to understand that can be a positive, because you can kind of remember what they did and you can learn from your previous video. But, there’s never a guarantee that they’re coming out in the same system and they’re never the same team twice after you’ve beaten them once.”

A win against ECU on Friday would put USF one more victory away from sweeping the AAC championships — both regular season and tournament.

“What an exciting moment for the program,” Schilte-Brown said. “I think I was here one year when the men’s program did it. They won the regular season and they won the conference championship here. And it was great for the school and for the kids.

“If I still remember it from a couple of years ago, I know what a great moment and memory that was for USF. So, I think it would be a true gift.”