A season that included an AAC regular season championship and a 17-game unbeaten streak came to an end Saturday night at home, as No. 8 UCF suffered a heart-wrenching loss to Washington State 1-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Knights (13-2-3), who came into the game as the number two team in their region, outshot the Cougars (10-7-5) 19-5, but were ultimately beat by their own mistakes and some unfortunate bounces.
Washington State’s pressure gave UCF some problems in the first half, forcing them into some giveaways. This culminated with an own goal in the fifth minute, putting the Knights in an early hole that they couldn’t dig their way out of.
“It was unlucky until the end, but we had good chances,” freshman Dina Orschmann said. “I am very proud of our seniors and I wish we could play, but sometimes it’s hard and today it was very hard.”
The Knights were able to settle down a bit as the half went on and had a few chances to equalize, but could not find the final shot to tie it up. Junior goalkeeper Vera Varis, who finished with three saves, came up big save in the 28th minute when she found herself one-on-one in front of goal after a UCF giveaway.
The second half played differently, but the result was the same. The Cougars relented on some of their pressure in favor of a more compact defensive scheme, allowing the Knights to play their style and attack for most of the second half.
“I think we were rattled in the first half. They understand there’s so much on the line,” coach Sahaydak said. “I thought overall in the second half they played a lot better. It was almost like, you know, they don’t care about conceding anymore, so they don’t worry about, like I said conceding, they just go forward in the attack and when you have nothing to lose, you play that way, so it just took them some time to feel confident that way. But I thought overall the second half was much better.”
The Knights’ strength was their offense as they came into the game averaging 2.65 goals per game, which ranked fifth in the nation, but could not find offense in this one.
UCF’s best chance came in the 23rd minute of the second half when freshman forward Stefanie Sanders had two chances from just outside the six-yard box within a few seconds of each other, but could not beat Cougar goalkeeper Ella Dederick.
The Knights were able to create a few more chances towards the end, even having a few balls take some unlucky bounces to the keeper, but just could not come up with the equalizer.
Even though the Knights didn’t come out on top in this one, coach Sahaydak will not let this game define the team.
“I love this team, I love my seniors. I did not want this season to end ever,” she said. “I told them that our season is not defined by this one game. I know it feels like that for them right now, but they’ve accomplished so much as a group and we won’t be defined by this one game. And I’m just so proud of all the accomplishments they’ve had and the legacy that the seniors will be leaving.”