Bulls fall to No. 5 FSU in Sweet 16

USF’s season ended Sunday in the Sweet 16. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS

TALLAHASSEE — It’s the end of an era for USF women’s soccer.

With the No. 11 Bulls’ 2-1 defeat Sunday in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament to No. 5 FSU, the winningest senior class in program history has played its last game.

Evelyne Viens, Rebekah Anderson, Andrea Hauksdottir, Brianna Blethen and Aubrey Megrath are moving on from the program after its deepest postseason run ever.

“It’s such a growth, those four years,” said Viens, who set numerous records, including the program and AAC career goal record (73). “You come here a teenager, and after you finish as a woman. … I’m just so proud we did the Sweet 16 this year. Four years ago, we were unable to get into the final of our conference.”

The game itself was chippy.

Actually, that might be an understatement.

USF was shown six yellow cards — including one to assistant coach Ibán López in the 74th minute — and was whistled for a program-record 29 fouls.

“It’s just a reflection on the authority of the ref,” head coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “He gets a hold of the game, then you don’t have that foul count. A lot of frustration from both sides in terms of that, but that’s not what we want to focus on when the game is over. Two good teams stepped on the field and gave everything they had.”

The Bulls struck first after junior midfielder Katie Kitching found Megrath just outside the 18-yard box in the fifth minute. Megrath subsequently flicked the ball in on two touches to give USF an early lead.

“I think we went out wanting to score more than they did,” Megrath said. “I think that maybe they underestimated our intensity. … It was for sure a team effort. Katie’s ball was amazing. I think that if I wouldn’t have been there, I had girls right behind me who are going to put it in.”

FSU clogged the midfield shortly thereafter, making it difficult for the Bulls to get any kind of meaningful attack going. At halftime, the Bulls only had 34 percent of possession, and of that, only 5 percent came in their attacking third.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles had chance after chance, recording six shots in the first half, including a 45th-minute goal by Jaelin Howell, tying the game seconds before halftime.

“I think we just slipped,” Megrath said. “I think it was a lack of discipline in the last 10 minutes. We got too comfortable. I mean, that’s hard, but no one to blame. It was just a team effort of getting too loose.”

In the 53rd minute, Blethen was called for a foul in the penalty area. FSU’s Deyna Castellanos lined up and beat USF sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Martinez, who went left when the kick went right.

From there, the Seminoles shut down any chance of a USF comeback, not allowing the Bulls to record a shot in the second half until the 76th minute, when sophomore forward Sydny Nasello sent one out to the left of the goal. Nasello’s shot was USF’s only shot of the second half and first since the 31st minute.

The Bulls’ four shots were a season low and Sunday was only the second time all year USF was outshot, with the other instance coming in Friday’s 2-0 win against Washington.

The loss was unfamiliar territory for the Bulls, who, despite the results, usually were statistically the better team all season.

“To be honest, we haven’t been in this situation all season,” Schilte-Brown said. “We’ve been the stronger team for all of our games this year in terms of possession and having the ball. … We absolutely did everything we could to try to get back in the game.

“Listen, this program is amazing. Florida State won a national championship last year — the only reason we were out — and I have a good feeling they’re probably going to win it again.”

Still, the seniors wanted more.

“I think we’re always wanting more,” Hauksdottir said. “I think no matter where we go, we always want more. Yes, we made history, but — we wanted to win. We wanted more.”

But it’ll be a season Schilte-Brown will never forget.

“For me, this was like the hardest year in my life,” Schilte-Brown said. “I lost my dad. My kids went to high school. And these girls endured that with me — they helped carry a team. They didn’t just play on a team, they helped a team mature, they helped lead the team. Honestly, we wouldn’t be here today if we weren’t all in on this.

“It was an amazing group and an amazing journey, and I don’t have any regrets.”