For the first time in 25 years, the UCF women’s soccer team is headed to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament as it defeated second-seeded Florida 3-1 at James G. Pressly Stadium Friday night. The Knights (13-4-5) will take on North Carolina Sunday at 1 p.m. for the right to advance to the Elite Eight.
With the victory, UCF earned its second-ever win over the Gators in the NCAA Tournament, with the last coming in 2004. The Knights also handed UF its third-straight second-round exit.
“I think tonight was a typical UF-UCF match where we had leads and they pressed for a goal and we had to defend at the end,” head coach Amanda Cromwell said after the match. “You saw two high quality teams and it is a shame that we met so early because it was an excellent NCAA Second Round match”
The Knights burst into the scoring column just five minutes into the match after a UF handball led to a Tishia Jewell (Satellite Beach, Fla.) free kick in UCF’s attacking third. Jewell’s cross from the sideline into traffic in front of the goal netted midfielder Madison Barney’s (Sammamish, Wash.) first-career goal on the Knights’ first shot of the match. For Jewell, it was her 10th assist of the season and 26th of her career. Senior Katie Hubbard (Jacksonville, Fla.) also chipped in with her third assist of the year on the play as she tapped it to Barney for opening score.
Florida struck back at the 23:33 mark as midfielder Erika Tymrak dribbled past three UCF defenders and sent a cross to forward Tahnai Annis for a header over the outstretched arms of keeper Aline Reis (Campinas, Brazil) to even the match at 1-1.
One goal wouldn’t be all for the Knights in the first half as senior Katie Jackson (Satellite Beach, Fla.) dribbled into the UF defense, passed to Bianca Joswiak (Berlin, Germany), who then fed sophomore Kristina Trujic (Venice, Fla.) as she blasted an arching shot over Florida keeper Taylor Burke to give UCF a 2-1 lead at the 33:06 mark. It was the third goal and eighth point of the year for Trujic and the third and second assist of the year, respectively, for Jackson and Joswiak.
In the second half, UF narrowly tied the match at the 65 minute mark as an Annis shot slipped by Reyes and headed just wide of the goalpost and out of bounds. Just six minutes later the Knights would take a 3-1 advantage as junior Nicolette Radovcic (Rockaway, N.J.) blew past the Gator (17-8) defense and around keeper Burke for her team-leading ninth goal of the season.
Florida would not go away quietly as Annie Speese’s free kick with six minutes left in the match found the bottom right corner of the UCF goal to draw the Gators within one point. But as the Knights did earlier in the contest, they used strong defense to stave off UF for good.
“I was prepared and really excited to make saves like that. I was upset about the goals I allowed, but I am just a keeper and I get upset about those goals,” Reis laughed after recording five saves with four crucial blocks coming in the final half.
The Knights will now set their sights on a No. 3 seed North Carolina team that dismantled Baylor 5-0 earlier Friday. UCF has never defeated the Tar Heels in 19 career contests, but Cromwell is excited for the opportunity that Sunday brings.
“There is a big contingent (of alumni) coming up on Sunday that said `If you win Friday, we will be there Sunday,'” Cromwell said of the large alumni base still in Orlando. “So some of the girls that played in the Final Four will be there on Sunday. They are the ones that battled against UNC a while back when there was a small group of schools that played back when women’s soccer started. It’s cool to have those alumni to join in and share that with us on Sunday.”