On the eve of the Conference USA Tournament, six members of the UCF women’s soccer team were honored as All-Conference USA selections, and junior defender Marissa Diggs was lauded as the Defensive Player of the Year. Diggs, who was selected as the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, becomes the first Knight since Jennifer Manis in 2007 to win the award.
Diggs was joined by senior forward Nicolette Radovcic on the first team while senior forward Tishia Jewell and sophomore midfielder Madison Barney earned praise on the second team. Junior goalkeeper Lianne Maldonado was distinguished on the third team, and newcomer Sophie Howard earned a spot on the freshman team.
UCF’s seven honors were a league high along with regular-season co-champions Colorado College and Rice.
As a starting centerback for the Knights, Diggs anchored a defensive line that currently ranks sixth in the country for shutout percentage (.632) and eighth for goals-against average (.561). UCF has blanked 12 opponents – eight in conference play – for its best shutout total since 2004. The Knights head into the C-USA Tournament on Wednesday one shutout shy of matching the school record currently held by the 1986 squad. This is Diggs’ second-consecutive appointment to the first team.
“Marissa is a tremendous 1v1 defender,” UCF head coach Amanda Cromwell said. “She’s so hard to beat because she’s fast but she’s also very physical. Not only does she win the ball, but she wins the ball and possesses it so she can start our attack for us.”
Radovcic, a team captain, earned her first all-conference team distinction since she was named to the All-Freshman Team in 2009. With 11 goals so far this year, she has emerged as the Knights’ top-goal scorer for the second-consecutive season to rank second in the league and 38th in the nation. She ranks 35th in the country for game-winning goals as her four against No. 12 Miami, Dartmouth, North Florida and Tulsa have tallied her career total to nine, which ranks seventh all-time at UCF. She leads an offensive attack that ranks first in the conference for points (141), goals (47) and assists (47).
UCF’s Senior CLASS Award finalist, Jewell, picked up the third all-conference honor of her career. She currently tops the league and sits 18th in the nation for assists (9) and also ranks fourth in C-USA for game-winning goals (3). With 34 career assists, she is one away from matching UCF’s all-time record leader. She ranks second for the Knights in total points (21) and has been named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.
“Tish is coming on really strong as of late. She’s a really good creator and playmaker, and Nic has been consistent throughout the year leading us in goal scoring,” Cromwell said.
As a starting defensive midfielder for the Knights, Barney earned the first all-conference award of her career Tuesday. She has been a reliable asset for the team this year and shined in the UCF Tournament as the Defensive MVP after assisting the game-winning goal against Dartmouth, which garnered her the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week award. She added two more assists during conference play against Houston and Southern Miss.
Coming into the season, Maldonado had the task of replacing All-American goalkeeper Aline Reis between the posts. She has started every match in 2012 and has organized a defense that sits atop the league for goals allowed (11), goals-against average and shutouts. Her .63 goals-against average ranks third in C-USA, 23rd in the country and is currently on pace to rank among UCF’s top-10 single-season leaders.
“Madi is just a solid player in every category – possession, ball-winning, heading. She’s very consistent and the other teams noticed the hard work she puts in,” Cromwell said. “It was great that Lianne was recognized because we don’t give up a lot of shots on goal or corners, so sometimes our goalkeepers don’t have a whole lot to do. But when she did, she came up big, and other teams notice she’s a very quality keeper.”
Rounding up the league honors is Howard, who joined the team just before conference play after representing Germany in the U-20 FIFA World Cup in Japan. The midfielder worked her way into starting lineup in her second appearance and has started ever since. She boasts the most points (8) by a freshman on the team with two assists and three goals, which includes the goal versus East Carolina that capped the sixth-fastest scoring sequence (1:37) of three-consecutive goals in NCAA history.
“Sophie could have easily been on an all-conference team, not just the freshman team,” Cromwell said. “She has come in and scored important goals at the right time.”
This group along with the rest of the Knights will travel to El Paso, Texas, for their first-round matchup against sixth-seeded and defending champion Memphis at 9 p.m. ET. UCF hopes to close its final chapter in C-USA by claiming its first tournament title.
The Knights have been seeded third once before, in the 2008 tournament when they advanced to the semifinals. UCF has advanced to the title game three times (2007, 2009 and 2010) and has faced Memphis in each of those matches.
“The training has been good and the energy is high. I can tell we are ready,” Cromwell said. “It’s tournament time and we are geared up for that. We like how the bracket has panned out. We always want to play a team that beat us during the year.”