Viens lifts Bulls to first ever Sweet 16 appearance

Evelyne Viens celebrates after scoring her second goal Friday against Washington. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

TALLAHASSEE — Perhaps it’s only fitting that one now-historic run was aided by the efforts of another.

Behind the fourth straight multi-goal game by senior striker Evelyne Viens, No. 11 USF women’s soccer defeated No. 19 Washington 2-0 on Friday to advance to its first ever Sweet 16 appearance in program history.

The feat of finally breaking through the second round, which USF  fell in in consecutive years, was not lost on coach Denise Schilte-Brown.

“It’s a big deal for me,” Schilte-Brown said. “Always trying to break through that second round. I felt like this was the team to do it, but now that we’re here, it feels great.”

Viens scored twice — once off a cross by sophomore forward Sydny Nasello in the 25th minute and again after battling through two defenders inside the 18-yard box in the 51st minute. The two goals extended her program-record season goal total to 25 and career goal count (a program and AAC record) to 73. Friday also was Viens’ seventh game of the season with at least a brace.

The second goal was critical, according to Viens, as the Huskies closed out the first half strong.

“I think that the last five minutes of the first half, we struggled a little bit,” Viens said. “Washington was coming strong, and we just knew that if we were able to put the game away in the first 10 [minutes], and just keep our minds, the game would change in our way.”

Viens’ second goal turned out to be the only shot the Bulls took during the final 45 minutes, but it didn’t matter. While Washington had its moments where it applied pressure — ultimately outshooting the Bulls 14-10 — USF dominated possession by a margin of 62-38 and the ball was kept in the midfield area 70 percent of the game.

“I think that when we put goals away pretty quickly, we can just  — not settle in, but moving the ball more relaxed and just tire the other team,” Viens said. “We just move the ball side to side and the other team gets tired. And today, Washington was not used to the heat, and I think we took advantage of that, and just kept moving the ball. We have amazing midfielders that just did amazing today, and helped us win this game.”

Washington’s best opportunity came in the 76th minute, when senior defender Rebekah Anderson was shown a yellow card inside the penalty area. Huskies’ leading goal-scorer Summer Yates lined up to take the ensuing penalty, which sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Martinez played perfectly to her right.

Martinez wasn’t thrilled, given the timing.

“Honestly, I was like, ‘Really, a penalty? Right now? Come on, guys,'” Martinez joked. “But I knew I just had to clear my mind and not focus on the girls saying, ‘Come on, Syd, you’ve got it.’ I just had to focus on the girl [Yates], focus on the ball, and do what I know how to do.”

A few corner kicks followed, but Washington didn’t record a shot other than the penalty in the process before a foul on the Huskies ended their only meaningful threat of the afternoon.

Martinez made seven saves on her way to her fifth clean sheet of the season and her second in the last three games. She credited her improved performance as the season has gone on, along with her improved confidence, to training.

“I’ve worked hard over the season trying to get [my feet] better,” Martinez said. “With help in the weight room, I’ve gotten a whole lot stronger than I was last year.”

The Sweet 16 comes up fast — the Bulls play No. 5 FSU on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Tallahassee. Given that the Seminoles knocked the Bulls out of the NCAA Tournament last season in the second round, the much talked about “Revenge Tour” continues for the Bulls.

But it’s also important to stay in the moment, according to Schilte-Brown.

“We’re enjoying the ride and these girls are ready,” Schilte-Brown said. “I think that we’re going to be good competition for anybody that we get.”

And, perhaps most importantly, the Bulls are peaking at the right time. A lot of that is due to being on the road for so long, according to Viens.

“We’ve been on the road for four weeks,” Viens said. “So we have a good chemistry and it is probably one of the most fun teams I’ve been part of and we love playing for each other and fighting for each other.”