Fate, for the most part, is in their hands. With two of UConn’s three remaining games against teams sitting above them in the standings, including a key match-up at home against conference leader Louisville on Sunday, the Huskies can put themselves in terrific seeding position for the inaugural American Athletic Conference Tournament kicking off on Halloween.
Also hanging in the balance is an appearance in the NCAA Championship, which has left the Huskies on the outside looking in since 2010 and chance for UConn to host a first round NCAA match, for the first time since 2009.
UConn (10-6, 4-2 AAC, 12 pts) is coming off a 1-0 overtime thriller over Cincinnati at home Thursday that leapfrogged the Huskies over the Bearcats into fourth place in the standings. The win placed UConn two points over Cincy, 12-10, and opened up some daylight over USF and SMU both sitting at nine points apiece.
UConn Coach Len Tsantiris applauded the effort and the outcome saying, “We deserved it. No question about it and that’s what I told the kids.”
The Cincinnati game at Morrone Stadium was one of the most exciting of the year with UConn’s vaunted offensive attack, including some point blank shots, continually denied by some equally spectacular goal keeping at the hands of Bearcat keeper Natalie Smith. UConn finally broke through when Stephanie Ribeiro drilled a 25 yarder in the 95th minute of play lifting UConn to the crucial win.
“(Cincinnati) was a lot better than we (gave them credit for),” said Ribeiro.
Even typically stoic Len Tsantiris was swept up in the intensity of the game, especially in the wild second half, continually imploring his team to keep up the attack. The girls seem to feed off of Tsantiris’ rare emotional display with a relentless offensive flurry that forced Smith into seven second half saves, before finally relenting in the overtime.
“I get them going”, said Tsantiris, “I have too, because they’re too young. In the first half they were (at the goal), but they were passing the responsibility. They were afraid to go at (Cincinnati). ‘You’re at the top of the box, why are you passing. Shoot.’ The second half it opened up.”
Big East dominates the AAC
It may be a new conference but some old familiar faces are sitting atop the American Athletic Conference with just over a week to play. With the exception of former Conference-USA member, UCF, four of the top five teams in the AAC are former members of the Big East with six points separating the five and some big match-ups coming down the stretch.
In addition to Louisville (10-4, 6-1, 18 pts), UConn has a Thursday match at third place Rutgers (11-3-1, 4-2, 12 pts) before closing out the regular season next Sunday at Memphis (9-6, 2-4, 6 pts).
Rutgers final three games include UConn, a road game at USF (8-4-3, 3-3, 9 pts) tomorrow and the season finale hosting Temple (6-8-1, 1-5, 3 pts) next Sunday.
The Cardinals, who are off to the ACC next season, and looking to secure the first AAC regular season crown close out the season with two straight on the road. After a trip to Storrs tomorrow Louisville will have its work cut out with a visit to Cincinnati Friday.
Second place UCF, currently ranked 21st (NSCAA) nationally, probably has the easiest road coming down the stretch, hosting Memphis tomorrow before heading out on the road to Houston (1-9-3, 0-7, 0 pts) Thursday and wrapping up at SMU on Sunday (8-7, 3-4, 9 pts).
Cincinnati (7-9-1, 3-3-1, 10 pts), dropping to fifth in the standings following the UConn loss, travels to Temple tomorrow before the huge match-up at home against Louisville Friday.
UConn says good-bye to seniors on Sunday
Coupled with what should be an emotional day on the field as UConn battles conference leader Louisville, are the Senior Day festivities taking place prior to the kickoff. UConn bids farewell to mid-fielders Jennifer Skogerboe (Leesburg, VA) and Devin Prendergast (Babylon, NY). Both will have their parents, friends and family on hand.
Skogerboe reflected on her senior season, “This has definitely been the best season yet and we have a good group of girls and we all work together. I think we can go far.” And added that her senior year has, “Gone by way too fast and I don’t want it to end, but I’ve enjoyed it so and gonna make the last bit count.”
They and their teammates will have a great deal to say in determining whether the seniors get a chance to play at Morrone again this season.
Prendergast echoed some of the same senior sentiments as Skogerboe adding, “Hopefully we keep winning and we beat Louisville on Sunday and can go on the (NCAA) tournament. It’s mine and (Skogerboe’s) dream to get back the tournament. We haven’t been there since our freshman year.”
UConn made the NCAA Championship in 2010 with eight regular season wins coupled with two wins in the Big East tournament…The Huskies lost to Hofstra, 1-0, in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament…UConn’s last regular season with at least 10 wins was in 2009…The Huskies last win in the NCAA Tournament was in 2009 with a 1-0 win over Boston University in Storrs...Tomorrow’s match at the Joseph J Morrone Stadium against Louisville kicks off at noon.