‘Relationships above winning’: Schilte-Brown clinches division title in her final regular season game at USF

USF won its first AAC East Division Title in program history. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF women’s soccer coach Denise Schilte-Brown has given many pre-game speeches, but the one she gave before facing FAU on Thursday was different.

It was her final game at Corbett Stadium.

Schlite-Brown was selected to be the head coach of the new Super League Tampa Bay team that will begin play in August 2024.

The pressure was on for Schilte-Brown, whose tenure began in December 2006, and her team to deliver a good performance. 

The East Division Conference Title was on the line. 

”What’s going to be different this day, or is it just going to be ‘Show up, business as usual?’” Schilte-Brown said. “I think today required something above business as usual.” 

The Bulls (10-5-2, 6-1-2 AAC) took care of business when they clinched the East Division Conference Title against the Owls (7-6-5, 3-3-3 AAC) 2-1 on Thurasday with all three goals occurring in the second half. 

This is the first time the AAC has had divisions for women’s soccer and the first title won in USF program history. A crowd of 1,431 attendees witnessed the historic moment.

Still, South Florida struggled to score in the first half. It had 11 attempts on goal while Florida Atlantic had one.

Schilte-Brown and her staff assessed on how they could net goals against FAU’s goalkeeper Lexi Gonzalez during the halftime break. Gonzalez ranks sixth in the NCAA save percentage at 89%.

Noticing that Gonzalez was a 5-foot-11-inch keeper, Schilte-Brown redirected her players to aim at the bottom half of the net for their shots.

“We talked about it and I’m proud of them for continuing to stay focused and execute that.  There [were] some really dangerous services along the ground that became an issue for [FAU],” Schilte-Brown said.

USF would follow their coach’s advice. Sophomore midfielder Sadie Sider-Echenberg scored their first goal against the No. 21 ranked goalie in the 63rd minute. 

The Bulls jumped from 35% ball possession in the first half to 61% in the second. USF totaled 20 shots against FAU’s four by the end of the match. 

When FAU netted their lone goal at the 66th minute to tie the game 1-1, USF immediately huddled together in its goal box to discuss how they were going to get the lead back.

Junior midfielder Peyton Felton’s first collegiate goal in the 73rd minute gave the Bulls a 2-1 lead. It was an example of the ‘game-winning culture’ in effect in real time. 

Senior defender Vivianne Bessette said that the win was a group effort, and both the offense and defense needed each other equally.

“Everyone was locked in today, that’s all we needed,” Bessette said. “We didn’t let down [our guard]. We stayed focused and we knew we needed another one. [If] we can score once, we can score again and again.” 

Corbett roared with excitement as the final whistle blew. Fans cheered and tears fell. USF dumped the water cooler over Schilte-Brown, leaving her drenched.

Multiple alumni who played under Schilte-Brown’s coaching staff attended her final game – one of them being Lindsay Brauer, who played at USF from 2004-07. 

Brauer experienced Schilte-Brown’s first two seasons as a coach. She said her relationship with Schilte-Brown has only built on since then, and they are great friends over 15 years later. 

Brauer said her time with the Bulls was the ‘building blocks’ to the legacy Schilte-Brown created.

“[Schilte-Brown] and [associate coach Chris Brown] came in and changed the program, just the layout of what USF soccer was,” Brauer said. “It’s been fun to watch them each year get better and better. They have taken this program and soared through.” 

Multiple alumnae mentioned a “game winning culture” during the post-game ceremony honoring Schilte-Brown.

This mentality will follow her players beyond their time at USF. Many of her current players have said Schilte-Brown has instilled confidence to overcome adversities.

Senior midfielder Serita Thurton, who has played all four of her years at this program, said that she is grateful for what she is taking with her post-USF.

“As a woman, [Schilte-Brown] really teaches you on how important it is to be a powerful woman in this world,” Thurton said. “Going into whatever I do next, [Schilte-Brown taught me] to just have faith in myself and use that strength to push forward and do whatever I want to do.”

USF has completed its 2023-24 regular season run. It will enter the AAC Tournament as the No. 2 seed before Schilte-Brown will move onto her next endeavor.

After 17 seasons at USF, Schilte-Brown hopes to leave behind a positive legacy for all her players and the program. 

“It’s really important to know your core values and try to live by them,” Schilte-Brown said. 

“It’s relationships above winning [and] caring about these women and their next steps in life. In turn you’ll have women who care about you for the rest of your life.”