ORLANDO - The Miami Hurricanes ended their postseason campaign in heartbreaking fashion Saturday night, dropping their Women's Soccer Championship opener to homestanding No. 18 UCF in penalty kicks.
After both teams converted their first three opportunities from the spot, Knights' senior Nicolette Radovcic's shot snuck its way past Miami goalkeeper Emily Lillard in the fourth round. Miami freshman Ally Andreini struck the ball well, but her attempt hit off the crossbar, giving UCF a late advantage. Next to the line, Knights' freshman Allie Gerry slotted her shot past Lillard, sending her team into the second round.
"Although it goes down as a tie, it is tough to swallow not to be moving on," head coach Tom Anagnost said. "I am so proud of this group. I have never had a team overcome so much adversity in one season."
It was UCF who opened the game with an early chance. Knights' forward Nicolette Radovcic snuck past the Miami (9-7-4) defense and made her way in for a threatening scoring opportunity in the fifth minute. Lillard was up to the challenge, however, holding her ground and calmly stopping the senior's effort for the first save of the night.
Miami would build momentum of its own in the early stages of the first half, as a frantic 11th-minute scramble in the Knights' box produced a shot that deflected off the near post. Senior Kim Hutchinson's effort 20 yards out then required a diving stop from Knights' keeper Lianne Maldonado, continuing a strong offensive surge for the Hurricanes.
Miami would eventually break through in the 20th minute, as a beautiful sequence from the team's offense culminated in a goal from Andreini. Fellow freshman Shannon McCarthy's strong throw-in reached the outskirts of the box and was headed on by senior Kate Howarth. Andreini, positioned deep in the box, finished a header of her own past Maldonado to take a 1-0 advantage.
The goal was the first allowed by the Knights (17-4-2) since an Oct. 12 match-up against Colorado College, ending the Knights' streak of seven consecutive shutouts. It was Andreini's first goal since an Aug. 24 tally in a 4-0 win at home over Morehead State.
UCF would respond with a surge of its own, as some offensive pressure resulted in a corner kick in the 32nd minute. Back-to-back shots from UCF's Tishia Jewell sailed high and wide, however, as Miami entered the half sporting a 1-0 advantage.
The Hurricanes and Knights traded possession for most of the second half. Howarth's chances in the 75th minute nearly sealed a win for Miami, but Maldonado made two dramatic stops to preserve the 1-0 deficit.
"We played a lot better in this game and created so many dangerous opportunities," Anagnost added. "Unfortunately, we left too many chances out there."
The hosts pulled equal in the final stages of the game to force overtime. Ashley Nicol's diving header finished off a pretty sequence in the 84th minute, as Lillard's effort was not enough to maintain the lead.
The Knights built pressure in the extra period, but Lillard maintained her composure. A breakaway chance was defended well by the Canes in the 95th minute, while another opportunity was shot high by Radovcic less than a minute later. After a quiet second overtime frame, the two teams entered penalty kicks, where UCF prevailed.
"I have never had a team overcome so much adversity in one season," Anagnost said. "I think this game showed how much we improved over the season."
The disappointing finale also represented the final collegiate game for the team's inspiring senior class, comprised of Ali Brennan, Kate Howarth, Kim Hutchinson and Jordan Roseboro."My heart breaks for these four seniors," Anagnost said. "They have been through so much and have really made a long lasting imprint on this program."