Yesterday the NCAA Women's College Cup selections were announced, matching USF against Illinois State in the first round. Sunday afternoon, the Bulls lost the American Conference championship game to UConn, but their efforts in the conference tournament pushed them up in the national rankings.
Sunday's game was dominated by the Bulls, but soccer is a sport in which you can outplay your opponent for most of the game and still lose. Forward Leticia Skeete had some decent chances to score in the first period, and the defense held the line well for most of the game. The first period was all Bulls, but no one could score. The second period was dominated by UConn, but still no one could score. Two overtime periods were played, in which USF wrestled control of the game away from UConn, but still could not score. It is rare and painful to see 110 minutes of such intense soccer with no goals scored. Penalty kicks decided the game in UConn's favor.
Side note: after the game, a UConn freshman was suspended from the team.
It is always heartbreaking to lose in penalty kicks (especially in the season's most important game so far), but the season is not over. The PK loss goes down as a tie, making USF's record 13-6-2. The Bulls rose to No. 21 in the rankings and received a much deserved invite to the College Cup. "It was strife that got us to this point in the season and I think it's that type of trial that gets you through the NCAA tournament," said head coach Denise Schilte-Brown after the championship loss. The team now knows that they can perform under pressure, and that confidence should serve them well in the tournament.
So the College Cup is a single elimination tournament of 64 teams, 30 of which were given automatic spots for winning their conferences. With the national rankings attached, the Bulls' corner of the bracket looks like this:
If the national rankings are to be believed, USF should defeat Illinois State and face No. 13 Pepperdine on November 21st for a spot in the sweet sixteen. The winner of that game will most likely face defending national champion UCLA to get into the elite eight.
What will stand out in the upcoming tournament is the dynamic defense. They allow only 3.7 shots on target per game, and goalkeeper Kat Elliot saves 78% of them. USF has ridiculously good defenders in Jackie Simpson (second team all-conference) and Diana Saenz. Opponents rarely get anything past them. They steal the ball away and drive it upfield extremely well. They and first team all-conference midfielder Olivia Chance are the forwards' best friends on the field.
Speaking of forwards, the Bulls' goals are scored by Demi Stokes (second team all-conference), Leticia Skeete, Sarah Miller, and quite often by Olivia Chance. In the three games of the conference tournament, Skeete scored two goals and Stokes scored one. Jackie Simpson also scored a goal along the way.
The NCAA tournament starts this weekend; the Bulls will play the first game at home this Saturday evening at 7:00 and, although betting odds on NCAA women's soccer are nowhere to be found, USF should be favored to win.