Bulls dominate in conference title match to win AAC tournament

Junior forward Sydny Nasello (above) earned the award for the tournament’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player after scoring two goals in the championship win over Cincinnati. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

For the third time since 2017, the USF women’s soccer team won the AAC tournament title with a comfortable 4-0 win over Cincinnati on Saturday.

“[This season’s team is] a special group,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said amid the postgame celebrations. “They are very disciplined, they’ve enjoyed the plan, they like the way that we play. They really grabbed hold of it and this has been a climb for our program.”

Junior goalkeeper Sydney Martinez also shared what the tournament win meant to her and her teammates.

“I think [the win] is amazing for our team,” Martinez said. “It shows that even though we’re a young team, we can do anything, we can overcome anything. Winning an entire tournament on top of winning [the regular-season title] is incredible for such a young team.”

The Bulls (9-0-2, 6-0-1 AAC) handled the Bearcats with relative ease; a victory made even sweeter after the 1-1 stalemate between the teams that occurred two weeks prior in Ohio.

“I think we were a little bit loose [in the previous matchup with Cincy] because we [had already qualified for] the tournament,” Schilte-Brown said. “We were on turf, it was raining, it was cold, all those things added up.”

In the sunny conditions at Corbett Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the Bulls peppered the Bearcats’ (5-5-1, 4-3-1) goal with 24 shots, resulting in their highest scoring output this season. 

In the 12th minute, senior defender Paula Leblic burst down the left flank and found junior forward Sydny Nasello in the penalty area. Two touches later, she opened the scoring with a shot that flashed past the Cincy goalkeeper.

A second goal for Nasello came in the 57th minute from the penalty spot. She scored six goals and assisted six more in just 10 games this season. 

Nasello was also named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year on Wednesday for the work she’s put in throughout the season.

The two-goal cushion all but sealed the deal, as the Bulls’ defense had yet to allow more than one goal in any match this season. By the end of the 90 minutes, the team had completed its seventh shutout of the campaign. Martinez, who was voted AAC Goalkeeper of the Year, was quick to credit her defensive line for the accomplishment.

“The seven shutouts wouldn’t even be possible without [senior defender Chyanne Dennis], [freshman defender Vivianne Bessette] and the entire team in front of me,” she said. “[I may have received the award] but it should really be credited to them and the entire team for making my job easy.”

Two further goals from Leblic in the 67th minute and senior midfielder Meghan Cavanaugh in the 79th sweetened the championship punch for Schilte-Brown’s team. Soon after, she chose to substitute many of the starters with the result well in hand.

The fans at Corbett Stadium rose to applaud the women as they marched off the field, with a particularly raucous standing ovation for Nasello.

The still-undefeated Bulls will now turn their focus to Monday’s selection show during which the team will find out who it must prepare for in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Martinez said the team will gather in the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Building to tune in.

The first round of the tournament is scheduled to be played April 27-28 in Cary, North Carolina.