John Denton's Knights Insider
Nov. 12, 2009
By John Denton
UCF's women's soccer team is hoping that the most disappointing moment of an otherwise successful season will spark the team in this weekend's NCAA Tournament.
UCF, the regular-season champions of Conference USA, saw a 10-game winning streak come to an end when it was surprisingly upset by Memphis last weekend in the C-USA tournament title game. That loss cost the Knights a shot at their first C-USA postseason title and a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, UCF will now open tournament play Friday in Madison, Wis., against UW-Milwaukee. If the Knights win that game, they would face the Arizona State-Wisconsin winner on Sunday.
Coach Amanda Cromwell, who has built UCF into a powerhouse program, hopes that the slip-up against Memphis will be just the wake-up that the Knights needed going into NCAA Tournament play.
"We had won 10 in a row and sometimes something like (losing in the conference tournament) can be a blessing in disguise and a kick in the butt," Cromwell said. "We were complacent and the girls felt like they could just show up and things would happen, but that game showed them that they still have to work for things."
The No. 3 seeded Knights (16-4-1 overall) are no strangers to the pressures of playing in the NCAA Tournament. This is their 14th tourney appearance, the most of any school in Florida. UCF received an at-large bid for the third season in a row in large part because their non-conference RPI was No. 4 in the country.
The weather in Madison is expected to be passable with highs on Friday near 56 degrees and highs on Sunday around 46 degrees. It's the grass length on the field that Cromwell worries will slow down UCF's speed advantage.
Cromwell isn't too jazzed about having to potentially play two Wisconsin-based teams near their home bases, but she thinks the scenario will re-ignite a fire in her team that was dominant for much of the season, but did struggle somewhat down the stretch.
"It's not going to be easy, but I really think it's a blessing in disguise. I think this gives the girls a renewed sense that we have to go there and be ready," Cromwell said. "It's on their home field and even though we're coming in as the higher seed, we're really going there with an underdog mentality."
They can take that approach after coming up short in the conference title game in a 3-0 loss to Memphis. UCF had impressive wins against Duke, Florida State and USF and went 10-1 in conference play, but failed in its bid to win the school's first C-USA tournament title.
Cromwell gave her team 24 hours to get over the loss before the preparation moved forward toward the NCAA Tournament. "If we were going to lose, I'd rather lose last weekend than this weekend," the coach said.
UCF purposely stacked its schedule early this season in hopes of getting the team used to playing against some of the nation's best team. The Knights feel the experience of narrowly losing to North Carolina and beating No. 10 Duke and No. 4 FSU will pay off come tournament time.
"We want to get beyond the Sweet 16 and exceed everybody's expectations," said senior Courtney Whidden, who has nine goals this season and 31 for her career. "We feel like with the schedule that we've played we can go out and compete against anybody in the country."
Cromwell said this UCF team, loaded with eight seniors, five juniors and some quality depth, hasn't shied away from lofty expectations all season. She fully expects her team to bounce back from the Memphis loss and still be alive next week when Sweet 16 play rolls around.
"They're funny because more than any other year this group wants those expectations on them," said Cromwell, UCF's coach the past 11 years. "Everything is attainable and there are no pie-in-the-sky dreams. Our goal was to go undefeated in conference and we came close. We've basically seen it all and it's exciting to think about the (future)."
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.