John Denton's Knights Insider

Sept. 23, 2009

By John Denton

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This is what can be deemed only as supreme confidence. UCF women's soccer coach Amanda Cromwell was so confident that the Knights would have a good team this season that she went out and arranged one of the nation's toughest, most rugged schedules.

And now, after an impressive 5-2-1 showing against some of the nation's best teams, Cromwell strongly believes her UCF squad is ready for Conference USA play and Friday's key home game against UAB. Despite playing the second-toughest schedule in the country, UCF is ranked No. 20 nationally. UAB is ranked No. 20 in the RPI, while UCF's RPI is 10th.

``We knew that we had a strong senior class coming back, we had some good, talented rookies coming in and a quality transfer, so we wanted to play a tough schedule,'' Cromwell said. ``(Friday's game) is a huge game for us because we're starting conference play and UAB always seems to play their best soccer against us. They beat us last year, so we're looking for some revenge.''

Cromwell, who has built a soccer powerhouse at UCF in 11 seasons with 146 wins and seven NCAA tourney bids, was dead on in her assessment of the strength of this season's team.

UCF has already defeated two top-10 teams, besting No. 4 Florida State and No. 10 Duke. The two losses have come to elite programs, falling to No. 1 North Carolina and No. 12 South Carolina last week. Before the USC defeat, UCF had strung together a five-game unbeaten spree (4-0-1) and a streak of 400 consecutive minutes without yielding a goal.

Even in defeat, UCF made quite an impression on North Carolina and South Carolina. UCF outshot South Carolina 12-8 in the 1-0 loss, the first team all season to get off more shots than the Gamecocks. And legendary UNC coach Anson Dorrance had to change his backline because of UCF's repeated push.

UCF's biggest strength is its overall depth of talent and a whopping eight different players have scored goals so far this season. But the unquestioned star of the team is senior Courtney Whidden, who leads the team in goals (four) and points (nine). She has two game-winners this season, including the sudden-death kick that beat Florida State.

``She is just a pure goal scorer and she knows how to put the ball into the net,'' Cromwell said. ``She's very technical in her approach, but she can use her head, she can volley and she can score one vs. one. She's really good.''

Nicolette Radovcic has buoyed the stellar freshman class, while steady senior Becca Thomas has been a fixture as UCF's most intense midfielder. Radovcic, a starter in every game at forward, scored the game-winner against rival USF earlier in the season.

Much of UCF's confidence stems from dynamic goalkeeper Aline Reis, who has pitched three shutouts so far this season despite being just 5-foot-3. The Brazilian previously played for her National Team and last season she became the first UCF player since 1995 to be named to the All-American team. She was one of just three freshmen to be on the first or second All-American squads.

``She's very aggressive and quick. She is small, but she's an amazing goalkeeper,'' Cromwell said of Reis. ``She just has an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time.''

UCF also has an embarrassment of riches of sort in backup goalkeeper Lynzee Lee, a senior transfer from Utah. She's recorded two shutouts this season in relief of Reis and has helped allow just seven goals in eight matches - four of which came from top-ranked North Carolina.

The goal of this team, undoubtedly, is to win a Conference USA crown. UCF has twice won the regular-season title under Cromwell, but hasn't yet won the league tournament. Seeding is more important than ever this year because only six of the league's 12 teams qualify for the conference tournament and the top two seeds get first-round byes.

UCF can take a major step toward a top seed in the coming days with big home games against UAB (Friday) and Memphis (Sunday, 1 p.m.). Win those games and UCF could be well on its way to the special season that Cromwell thought was possible all along.

``We don't talk about (winning a conference title) every day, but it's a given and always a goal for this team,'' she said. ``Once conference play starts, we all know every game is important. I think we'll be ready.''

John Denton's Knights Insider runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.