Nov. 29, 2011
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Even after a season in which UCF's women's team accomplished so much and authored one of the greatest postseason runs in school history, head coach Amanda Cromwell and her players were left with the gnawing, agonizing feeling of wanting more.
More, as in a return trip to soccer's College Cup Final Four, something UCF fell just a game short of doing after losing late last week to Wake Forest in the round of the Elite Eight. But it's that sense of wanting more that will drive the team this offseason through the pain of coming up just short, Cromwell said.
``This run and what we accomplished definitely carries a lot into the spring as far as excitement and motivation,'' said Cromwell, the architect of UCF's soccer dynasty. ``The great thing now is the girls are very hungry and there's even a little bit of a lack of a sense of accomplishment even though they did great things. They want more now, so that will definitely carry us through the spring.''
UCF will always have the memories of a 2011 run that was historic on several accounts. The Knights got beyond a second-round hurdle that had tripped them up the previous four seasons by whipping Florida in Gainesville. UCF then shocked the soccer world when it beat perennial powerhouse North Carolina on penalty kicks, surpassing the Tar Heels for the first time in postseason play.
Hoping to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1987, UCF's stirring postseason run came to an end on Friday night in a 3-0 loss to No. 1-seed Wake Forest. The Knights struggled through a disappointing first half and couldn't finish several opportunities in the second half before the Demon Deacons added the clinching third goal.
It was a crushing end to what had been an otherwise solid season and an inspiring last couple of weeks. UCF beat Penn State, Washington State and San Diego during the regular season, and turned disappointment in the Conference USA tournament into delight with a memorable run in the NCAAs. Still, the abrupt end to it all was difficult to stomach.
``The last couple of years I feel like we underachieved, losing in the second round and being a seeded team and having to travel. It was a much different feeling after those games,'' Cromwell remembered. ``But it was different this year because we knew that we had accomplished a great thing and made history for the program. But still, when you are one win away (from the Final Four) there's this bittersweet feeling that you have. It's like you have been stabbed in your heart over and over, but at the same time you are proud for the kids.''
Cromwell, who just finished her 13th season at UCF, still laments a first half against Wake Forest in which UCF's relatively young played tight in its biggest game of the season. The Knights played with reckless abandon and a fearlessness against Florida and North Carolina and there was no sign of nerves heading into the Wake Forest game. But the combination of Wake Forest spreading the Knights out and UCF's jitters led to a sloppy first half.
``If we would have just given our best effort for 90 minutes, we would have known that we did the best that we could. But we're left with that feeling of not playing great in the first half,'' Cromwell said. ``There's no reason that we should have had more nerves for that game than the ones against Florida and UNC. But being that close to the Final Four, it might have made us more nervous. We did seem to play more nervous in the first half for whatever reason. But we didn't carry ourselves that way in warm-ups or throughout the whole day. Everything was normal with all systems go. But you also have to give credit to Wake.''
Cromwell said her pick is that Wake Forest will ultimately reach the NCAA Championship Game and face Stanford. Cromwell, associate head coach/recruiting coordinator Colby Hale and assistant coach Donna Fishter will attend the Final Four this weekend to begin the recruiting process for next season. Already they have been flooded with interest in the UCF program following the historic run in the postseason.
``This is a huge impact. Just wearing UCF on our chests (at the Final Four) I'm sure we'll be a lot more noticed and people will know who we are,'' Cromwell said. ``We always got e-mails from recruits, but I've gotten a ton lately and it's multiplied. And I also got e-mails from former players, donors and people are excited about our program. That's cool to give UCF fans something to believe in and cheer for.''
UCF loses just three seniors, but the impact left behind by goal keeper Aline Reis, Katie Jackson and Stacie Hubbard will be immeasurable. The group got UCF to at least the second round of the NCAA Tournament each of the past four years. But it's their leadership on and off the field and the 2011 stirring postseason run where the group will be most remembered.
``What they brought to the program - not just this season, but what they've done over their four years. The culture is what it is because they are winners,'' Cromwell said. ``They were such a fun group to rally around and they weren't going to be satisfied with anything other than making a deep run in the postseason.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.