John Denton's Knights Insider: Women's Soccer's Winning Tradition

Oct. 28, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Winning had become such a part of the culture at UCF with the women's soccer program over the past decade that it had become almost expected. That's often the case when a program wins six regular-season conference titles and makes seven NCAA Tournament appearances in a nine-year window.

But this season, with so much talent having departed and mostly uncertainty at the forefront, nothing was taken for granted by UCF coach Amanda Cromwell. For the first time in several years, UCF headed into this season not knowing if it could keep up its long history of excellence in women's soccer.

But talented individuals often have a way of accomplishing great things no matter their lack of experience or journey back from injury.

Sophomore Tishia Jewell has already evolved into one of the nation's elite scorers, while Kim Newsome has bounced back from a major knee injury and goalkeeper Aline Reis has played through a partially torn knee ligament and damage in her shoulder. And even though UCF is fielding its youngest team in years - the Knights recently routed UTEP 4-0 without starting a senior - it is back atop the Conference USA perch once again.

UCF (12-3-3 overall and 7-1-2 in Conference play) wraps up its regular season Friday night against Southern Miss, and the Knights are poised to win the C-USA regular-season crown for a fourth time in six years. The Knights rank 16th in the latest RPI, and will almost certainly head into the C-USA tourney at home next week as the top seed.

It's all a little bit surprising to Cromwell, who has grown accustomed to not only winning, but winning big at UCF. The Knights have never lost more than two conference games under Cromwell, but she wondered before the season if this might be a year of rebuilding because of the losses of team leaders Becca Thomas, Courtney Whidden, Yvonne George and Nikki Moore.

``In the preseason, I didn't really know what to expect. We had lost so much and I really wondered who would step up for us?'' Cromwell said. ``I knew that we had talent, but I knew that we'd been inconsistent and looking for leadership. But the leadership with Lauren Halbert and Katie Jackson, they have taken the reins. Having (Brianna Schooley) back has helped and we have really gelled. We've grown as a team.''

Not that starting three sophomores and three freshmen hasn't been filled with dramatic highs and lows at times. During one roadtrip, UCF suffered a disappointing 1-1 tie against Arizona only to rebound two days later with a 5-0 crushing of No. 19 Arizona State. Cromwell said that Arizona State was clearly the much better team, but the inconsistency in the performances reminded her of the patience that would be needed this season.

And that rang true again earlier this month when UCF lost 1-0 to Colorado College, a loss that had the Knights soul-searching afterwards. But since then, they have won three-straight games by a whopping 10-1 margin. That string of games proved to be a telling moment in the direction of this season.

Said Cromwell: ``The Colorado College game was a bad loss, we didn't play well and we just decided that we weren't going to lose again.''

The Knights have become practically unbeatable largely because of the play of Jewell and Newsome on the wings and Reis in goal.

Jewell, a sophomore from Satellite Beach, has been consistently UCF's best player and one of the nation's top scorers. She ranks third in the country with 12 assists and ninth in the country with 32 total points. She also has 10 goals and has registered a point in seven of the last eight matches.

Jewell, a highly decorated high school player, struggled through much of her freshman season because of a sprained ankle, but made quite an impression on her teammates as a true freshman by playing well against top-ranked North Carolina. And this season she has naturally assumed the scoring role that the Knights were so desperately looking for.

``Within the matter of a year, she's just gotten so much better. When Courtney Whidden and Yvonne George graduated, she picked up the goal scoring and every game she's so good under pressure,'' Cromwell said. ``She can create things for others and she's a handful for them out there. Between her and Kim Newsome on the left with her speed, I don't know how defenses can prepare for that. You can't double team either one of them.''

Newsome, a senior, has bounced back from last year's ACL injury to score eight goals, while sophomore Nicolette Radovcic has blossomed late in the season and scored a goal in each of the past three games.

The heart of the team comes from Reis, undisputedly UCF's toughest player. She's given up just 17 goals in 16 games while authoring four shutouts. She's made 64 saves, helping UCF outscore its opponents 41-18 this season. And she's done it all on a broken down body that would have sidelined most players.

``Aline is amazing in goal. She's great on saves and she's very comfortable with her feet,'' Cromwell said. ``She's playing with a torn (Posterior Cruciate Ligament) in her knee. If anybody had the injuries that she's had, they wouldn't be playing. She's had a shoulder injury and a torn PCL and she just keeps playing. She's just a bulldog and our toughest player.''

That UCF has been able to keep winning despite its rampant youth is a testament to the talented players and culture established within the program, said Cromwell, who is in her 12th season at UCF. She credits the continuity with assistant coach Donna Fishter (11 years at UCF) and the recruiting prowess of associate head coach Colby Hale for allowing UCF to be the dominant program in Conference USA and a regular in the NCAA Tournament.

``Colby has done a great job making sure that we have the right student-athletes, the consistency of our staff with Donna helps and we have a certain way of doing things here,'' Cromwell said. ``We're on the same page and we strive for excellence and we have a culture where we know that we're playing for championships around here. We're not just trying to win games, we're trying to win championships.''


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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.