After a deep run in the NCAA Women’s College Cup tournament last season, the UCF women’s soccer team is set for a breath of fresh air when it kicks off its regular season against the University of Florida on Aug. 21 at 8 p.m.
UCF fell to eventual national champion Florida State, 1-0, in the quarterfinals to close out its season.
Head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak will be faced with a new task heading into the fall, saying goodbye to nine starters from a season ago, including leading scorer Tatiana Coleman, and welcoming 15 new faces to the 27-player roster.
Despite the new-look Knights’ transition, the team was ranked 17th in the nation in a preseason poll conducted by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America earlier this month. The Knights finished last season ranked No. 17 among NCAA Division I schools and played their first exhibition game on Aug. 13, but fell, 2-1, to Florida Gulf Coast University.
“We are a very new team,” Sahaydak said. “It’s an exciting time because we have a lot of new players. But, so far, we’re gelling really well, and the chemistry is really great.”
Of the nine starters lost, Coleman’s exit from the team opens up an opportunity for another player to lead UCF’s offense. Coleman, who recorded 14 goals and 11 assists in 23 games last season, led Sahaydak’s squad on the scoring front by 13 points in 2014.
Coleman was drafted in the second round, 18th overall, in the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft, but decided to play professionally in France. Former defender Carleigh Williams was also selected in the draft, going in the fourth round, 31st overall.
When the season commences, midfielder Ashley Spivey, one of five seniors on the squad, looks to tackle the role that was vacated by Coleman.
“It’s kind of ironic because it’s going to be my second season here, so I still feel new,” Spivey said. “Our senior class, although it’s not as big, we’re a good core of leaders for the group. We’ve done a good job teaching the new players our standards, our core values, what it means to be a Knight and what we represent on and off the field. It’s all about building a new foundation.”
After finishing second in scoring for the Knights last season with 10 goals and six assists in 23 games, Spivey became the only Knight to earn a spot on the American Athletic Conference 2015 Preseason All-Conference Team.
Bridget Callahan, who made 20 appearances as a freshman last season, scored three goals for the Knights in 2014. The speedy holding midfielder went on to assist UCF’s only goal in the exhibition loss to the Eagles.
Sahaydak currently holds a 34-8-4 record, including an 18-5-0 record in 2014, since taking the helm of the women’s soccer program in 2013. Under the former 1999 Women’s World Cup gold medal winner, the Knights have added two NCAA tournament appearances, bringing the team’s tally to 11 consecutive appearances.
“I have the utmost confidence in my teammates. Just because they’re new, does not mean they’re not talented players,” Spivey said. “It’s just going to take the right amount of time to get everyone playing collectively.”
The Knights open conference play in late-September when they host Temple. However, arguably their most important game of the season will come during conference play on Sept. 27 when they welcome the University of Connecticut, which is the team that beat them, 1-0, last year to win the AAC Championship and finished the season ranked No. 19.
Other notable matchups include a visit to reigning national champion Florida State on Sept. 10, home matchups against last year’s No. 44 Georgetown and No. 60 Memphis.
The Knights will cap the regular season with a rivalry-match when they welcome the University of South Florida, which closed the year ranked No. 22, to campus on Oct. 23.
Mike Gramajo is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future