The No. 18 UCF women’s soccer team kicked off the NCAA Tournament with a bang Saturday night as the Knights rallied from a 1-0 deficit to top Miami in penalty kicks, 5-3, at the UCF Soccer Complex.
UCF (17-4-2) advanced to the second round for the sixth-consecutive year and will face Florida in Gainesville on Friday at a yet-to-be-announced time.
Late heroics by defender Ashley Nicol, who scored her sixth goal of the season off a diving header with less than six minutes in regulation, sent the match to overtime. UCF topped Miami in overtime earlier this season, but neither team budged an inch Saturday through 20 minutes of extra play, forcing a shootout.
Freshman Allie Gerry put the game away with UCF’s last penalty kick as fans erupted on the sideline and her teammates piled around her in euphoria.
“I was very impressed with the PKs. They all tucked in nicely,” UCF head coach Amanda Cromwell said. “To battle like we did, that game was tough in a lot of ways. Miami is a very athletic team with a very long throw-in that causes a lot of problems.”
Although Nicolette Radovcic nearly put UCF on the scoreboard in the first five minutes with a 1v1 opportunity with UM’s keeper, Miami would end up striking first.
The Hurricanes snapped the Knights’ seven-match shutout streak when Shannon McCarthy’s long throw in found Kate Howarth inside the box. She headed it on to Ally Andreini on the far post, and Andreini headed it in for a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute.
The Knights got a jolt of life with their first corner kick in the 32nd minute as Andrea Rodrigues sent a short pass to Radovcic, whose cross connected with defender Marissa Diggs on the far post, but her header was saved.
Goalkeeper Lianne Maldonado came up with two huge saves off attempts by Howarth in the 74th minute, allowing the Knights to stay on the Canes’ heels.
“Lianne is the reason we were still in the game, 1-0, so I can’t say enough about her play tonight,” Cromwell said.
UCF couldn’t capitalize on several scoring opportunities in the second half until midfielder Madison Barney forwarded a ball to the far post, where Nicol sent a diving header past the keeper to tie the game 1-1 in the 84th minute.
“During warmup, I kept hitting my headers high. Coach said you have to hit them low,” Nicol said. “So right when Madi headed it, I envisioned diving for it.”
Radovcic had two good looks at goal during the first overtime period, but neither found the back of the net, and the teams lined up at midfield to settle the game in a shootout.
Tishia Jewell, Jennifer Martin, Nicol and Radovcic all finished their attempts with finesse to take a 4-3 advantage when Miami’s Andreini stepped up for her attempt. Her shot hit the crossbar, and Gerry came out on top to end the game and keep UCF’s postseason alive.