In the days leading up to UCF’s first round NCAA Tournament matchup against Georgia, the women’s soccer team was asked repeatedly about redemption and revenge. The Knights (17-4-0) had dropped a 1-0 regular season matchup to the Bulldogs in Athens.
But prior to Saturday night’s 2-1 win, UCF head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak asked the team to just focus on one thing. Not redemption. Not revenge.
“Her one word was `belief.’ Each and every one of us, non-starters, starters, we all have to believe in the plan. I think this game we really took that to heart. That’s what won us this game,” senior forward Kayla Darden said. “We knew we had to dig deep and just come out and needed to make it through 90 minutes. We won this game with heart. I’m so happy because I’m a fifth-year senior and this is not going to be my last game. I’m happy that I get to go on to the next round.”
The Knights advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after pushing past Georgia, 2-1, in front of a lively home crowd.They will meet Wisconsin at 4:30 p.m. in Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday.
After taking a 1-0 lead, UCF survived a rally from the Bulldogs, who netted an equalizer in the second half. Junior forward Ashley Spivey made sure the Knights would not bow out of the Big Dance early by recording her fourth game-winner of the year in the 69th minute.
UCF dominated possession and had a series of several near goals in the first half, mostly from Tatiana Coleman and Darden. It was clear to see that it was not a matter of if, but when the Knights would break through.
They made it happen in the 30th minute when Coleman’s long ball first hit Spivey’s head on the way to Darden as she streaked down the left side. She buried it to the back, right corner for her fifth goal of the season.
Georgia got the equalizer off Andie Fontanetta’s long shot that she cleaned up from Shayna Raekelboom in the 51st minute.
UCF patiently, but persistently looked to regain its edge. They found their opportunity in the 69th minute when freshman Hannah DeBose dribbled the ball to the end line and sent a cross into the box for Spivey.
The Knights improved to 12-5-1 all-time in the first round and delivered Roberts Sahaydak’s first NCAA Tournament win as a head coach.
“I’m overwhelmed. I’m proud of this team. They came out on fire. They were ready to do the work today,” Roberts Sahaydak said. “It was unfortunate to get scored on but their resilience and work ethic to come back and to win it, I’m just on cloud nine. But we still have a ways to go. That’s one. We have to refocus, but we’ll definitely enjoy this first win.”