Bulls earn NCAA tournament berth, team depth has helped them get there

USF women's soccer will play in the first round of this year's NCAA tournament at home Saturday at 7 p.m. ORACLE PHOTO/SAM NEWLON

When No. 17 USF women’s soccer takes the field for its NCAA Tournament matchup against Albany on Saturday night at Corbett Stadium, it will be led by the nation’s second-leading goal scorer, Evelyne Viens.

Viens, whose 19 goals this season and 47 career goals are program records, is the clear-cut face of a USF team making its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in five years.

But it takes more than just one player to get a team into postseason play. The Bulls were lifted to their first ever AAC regular season title by their depth. Viens was held goalless in five regular season games, but USF itself was blanked just once, a 1-0 double-overtime loss to Temple.

“The depth on our team is incredible,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “We have used that as a strength all year. We’ve talked about that. There’s not a lot of drop between when one player comes off and another player comes on. I think that can be one of our big advantages, especially in the early rounds, is just the depth.”

Senior Jordan Tuttle was part of that depth this season, playing 108 minutes over six regular season games.

“It’s definitely important to have depth everywhere on the field,” Tuttle said. “USF definitely has that here, within our program. All the way from our energy to our physical players on the field, we come prepared, ready to go and if you have to go on, you know your role and what to do and accomplish your task and get it done in the most efficient and best way possible.”

The Bulls’ depth is also proven in its starting lineup, with a trio of upperclassmen providing nightly support for the heavily-defended Viens.

Juniors Aubrey Megrath and Andrea Hauksdottir finished the regular season with the second and third most goals on the team, scoring six and five, respectively.

The third member of the trio of juniors is defender Bri Blethen. Blethen started all 15 regular season games, scoring three goals and assisting on two others. She assisted on the game-winning goal in the AAC Tournament semifinal against ECU on Nov. 2.

The freshmen stole the show, though. Forward Sydny Nasello recorded four goals in her debut season with the Bulls, while goalkeeper Sydney Martinez recorded six regular season shutouts. Nasello could have had more goals than just the four, as she recorded 13 shots on goal this season, which was the fourth most on the team.

Defenders Mia Palango and Olivia Cooke have also made their impact. Palango played in 14 games in the regular season, starting six. Cooke played in 14 regular season games as well, recording 16 shots during her freshman campaign.

“We have some exciting young players, and we’re happy that we have them,” Schilte-Brown said. “What a great experience for them to be here, in their first year, and get to go to the NCAA Tournament. We hope that that grows with them while they’re here.”

USF could have its depth tested on Saturday with Albany, the America East Tournament champions. The Great Danes enter after a 14-win season where they averaged more than two goals scored per game.

“I’ve actually been following their season. I know they’re a good team,” Schilte-Brown said. “I was just looking at the brackets in general. It’s a really tough field this year. You have to respect every team that’s made the NCAA Tournament.”

USF and Albany kickoff at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Corbett Stadium. The game will be broadcast on YouTube.