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USF’s season ends in first round of NCAA tournament

Junior forward Sydny Nasello put one shot on goal against NC State on Sunday. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

The USF women’s soccer team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament on Sunday in a 2-0 loss to NC State, ending the Bulls’ season and the collegiate careers of several staples of the program.

After the final whistle, emotions were running high on the field at Corbett Stadium.

“This was just a really special group of girls,” coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “It’s never the same in college. You have a new class coming and one leaving, so it’s always a special journey each season and this was a great one for us. It was a tremendous group of girls that I enjoyed immensely.”

Even senior defender Chyanne Dennis, USF’s captain and stable presence in defense for the last five seasons, was choked up reflecting on this year’s team.

“It was a great last season [for me and the seniors],” she said. “You [have to] go out there and just enjoy the season regardless of whatever happens. Just enjoy everyone’s presence because it’s certain people’s last years and you’ll probably never get that moment again with them.”

Dennis believed this team was capable of making a deep run in the tournament with the opportunity to play fourth-seeded Pepperdine in the second round. She thought the team performance was up to par, but the result left much to desire.

“I don’t think we played badly,” she said. ‘I think it was just more the little adjustments that we needed to make … We’re just excited that we got the chance to spend it with each other.”

The Bulls (12-4-3, 6-1-1 AAC) were on their heels within the first 10 minutes of play. The Wolfpack (9-8-2, 4-6 ACC) deployed an intense high press on the USF backline, forcing errant passes and winning possession in dangerous areas of the pitch.

“[They started the game] a little bit different than we had originally anticipated,” Schilte-Brown said. “They capitalized [when we lost possession]. When you’re chasing the game, things look a little different. So hats off to NC State. I think they’re a good team. They’re going to do well.”

It wasn’t long before NC State made a breakthrough. In the 24th minute, a through ball caught the Bulls flat-footed and NC State’s Annika Wohner broke the deadlock with a neat finish past junior goalkeeper Sydney Martinez. Despite calls for offsides from a large section of the crowd, Schilte-Brown saw no issue with the goal.

“I saw the video, [Wohner was] not offside,” she said. “NC State was [consistently] dangerous, but I thought we had plenty of chances to score. Like probably 15 different services that we just didn’t put in the back of the net.”

The rest of the first half was more of the same, USF scrambling in defense and a lack of support for the forwards on counterattacks. Junior forward Sydny Nasello, the Bulls’ leading scorer this season, was isolated against several defenders, whose physical game plan resulted in multiple fouls on Nasello.

“We took three early hits from them that I think were just a little bit late,” Schilte-Brown said. “It definitely set the tone for a physical game, but I think overall, it was a pretty even physical distribution from both teams.”

Throughout the second half, Schilte-Brown introduced a number of players to bolster the attack, including freshman forwards Kendall Lincoln and Madeleine Penman-Dirstine, and senior midfielder Meghan Cavanaugh.

The latter made the most immediate impact, surging forward and helping to create a handful of potential scoring chances. 

“I thought Meg played really free and had a lot of energy and impact on the game and was very dangerous as she has been all season when she’s had that opportunity,” Schilte-Brown said. “She’s dealt with [several injuries this season]. If we had a consistent Meg, I think she would have been a prolific goal scorer for us, but she was dangerous today.”

Despite their best efforts, the 2021 season has come to a close for women’s soccer. Regardless, conversations about next season have already started for Martinez and other returning players looking to assume a leadership role.

“[Freshman defender Vivanne Bessette] and I had a little conversation about how, [with Dennis leaving], she’s going to be the big dog in defense next year,” Martinez said. “It’s going to be me and her in the back so we’ve got to step up and be ready.”

Schilte-Brown was appreciative of her tenured players and the effort they’ve given the program over their time in Tampa.

“I’m going to miss my journey with my seniors,” Schilte-Brown said. “And I wish them the best of luck in the future.”