TAMPA – The FGCU women’s soccer team earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory Saturday afternoon as the Eagles defeated the University of South Florida 2-1 in the First Round at the Corbett Soccer Stadium. The Eagles move to 14-5-2 on the season and advance to the Second Round where they will face Duke Friday, Nov. 20 in Gainesville, while No. 22 USF ends the season at 15-4-3.
After allowing an own goal in the second minute of the contest, the Eagles battled back and drew two penalty kicks later in the first half. Senior captain Shea Rhoney (Lithia, Fla./Newsome High School) and juniorPaulina Speckmaier (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep/Florida) converted penalty kicks in the fifth and 37th minute, respectively, for the Eagles to take the lead before the break. Senior goal keeper Brittany Brown (Rochester, N.Y./Greece Athena High School) made five saves for the Eagles as the Green and Blue held strong in the second half and earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament win.
“I am so incredibly proud of this team,” said head coach Jim Blankenship. “We went into this game saying, ‘Why not us?’, but we knew that we would have to go out and make that happen. I thought our team did a great job with that. Brittany Brown was unbelievable. The entire backline was under a tremendous amount of pressure and they thrived with this opportunity. The team truly fights and battles for each other and I am so happy with the effort of our entire team.”
Overall, the Bulls – who entered the NCAA Tournament with an official RPI of 11 – outshot the Eagles 22-11 with six shots on goal but Brown was up to the test and held USF scoreless in the second half. The Eagles produced 11 shots, including the two penalty attempts, from five different players, led by senior Kaitlin Parker‘s (Palm Harbor, Fla./Clearwater Central Catholic High School) four strikes.
The game opened with a quick attack from the home team. The Bulls pushed forward on the kickoff and challenged Brown in the box. The veteran keeper came off her line to cut down the angle and blocked the USF shot attempt. The Bulls drove a corner kick into the six-yard box where an FGCU clear attempt went under the crossbar and found the back of the net to give USF a 1-0 lead in the second minute.
Despite the own goal, the Eagles pressed on and pushed into the USF defensive zone on the kickoff. Parker’s first shot of the game was a header that went high just before the Eagles drew a foul in the penalty box in the fifth minute. Rhoney lined up at the penalty mark and sent a low shot to the right corner to even the contest at 1-1 before fifth minute of play was completed.
The strike served as FGCU’s first-ever goal scored in an NCAA Tournament contest and became the first goal scored by an Atlantic Sun Conference team in an NCAA game since the 2004 season.
USF held the offensive advantage through…