UCF Wins First AAC Tournament Championship

Box Score (PDF)

ORLANDO, Fla. – For the first time in program history, the No. 20 UCF men's soccer team has won the American Athletic Conference Championship Tournament as it defeated Tulsa in the final by a score of 1-0. The victory awards them The American's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as the Knights will return to the big dance for the third straight season.

"We've been here four times in four years, and the tournament championship has eluded us for three years," said head coach Scott Calabrese. "Incredible to be able to get back to the game and get over the hump and get that trophy. It's an incredible accomplishment given how the season started. A lot of what we were dealing with due to the uncertainty of COVID, things that took place, and then be able to win eight in a row just shows what these guys are about."

The Knights had come up short in each of their last three championship matches, falling to SMU on all three occasions, with the last two on their home pitch at the UCF Soccer Complex.

But Saturday night was different. After starting 1-3, the national polls and chatter around the country died off, but the spirit and drive of the team never did. The Black and Gold finished the regular season on a hot streak, winning their final six matches to win their third straight regular season title. UCF didn't stop there, carrying that momentum into the tournament, where they triumphed over SMU in a penalty kick shootout to advance to the championship and knock off their rivals. In the title match, the Knights met the Golden Hurricane again, a team that handed them two early losses this season. UCF has not lost since that last defeat at the hands of Tulsa and have outscored their opponents 16-3 with five shutouts over that time.

"These guys have been incredible," said Calabrese. "They never stopped believing, they never stopped working. After that 1-3 start, these guys refocused themselves and it shows the character of this group. This group can do unbelievable things."

Saturday night was the first time since 2004 that the Knights were victorious in a conference tournament. They were a member of the ASUN then and won three straight tournaments from 2002-04. UCF's number of total conference championships rises to seven as the Black and Gold have tallied three regular season titles over the last three years plus tonight's triumph in the tournament.

The match got started with a bang as Lucca Dourado scored an absolute golazo, sniping a shot from nearly thirty yards away that changed direction mid-flight. The goal was Dourado's second of the tournament and third of his rookie campaign. The score came on the first shot of the match for either team and occurred at the nine minute mark.

UCF held Tulsa to zero shots through the first 25 minutes and had a 3-0 edge in attempts at that point. Things got dicey in the 27th minute as Tulsa's Jonathan Cervantes lofted in a free kick on target that Yannik Oettl had some trouble corralling. While falling into the net, Oettl pushed the ball forward to avoid crossing the line with it. Til Zinnhardt was right there waiting and fired a second opportunity, but that too was kept out by Oettl, keeping the match level. The play would go to VAR at the next stoppage, but the call of no goal stood.

Oettl had to make a pair of late saves as the first half wound to its conclusion. At the end of the frame, Tulsa had a 6-4 advantage in shots but it was UCF who had the lead on the scoreboard.

The first shot of the second half didn't come until the 56th minute which was a shot that hit the crossbar and deflected out of harm's way. The Golden Hurricane's intensity grew in the final ten minutes as they fired away three shots with no luck. One of those shots clanged off the crossbar while their final chance with a minute and change left on the clock missed wide into the side of the net. Despite outshooting UCF 5-0 in the final frame, Tulsa didn't find the equalizer.

The clean sheet was Oettl's sixth of the season in just ten matches played. To put into perspective how remarkable that is, Oettl earned sixth clean sheets in all of last season, playing in 20 matches. His save percentage climbs to .912 on the campaign. The Knights advance to 7-0-1 when scoring the first goal of the match.

Tournament awards were distributed after the match as Oettl was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Tournament while Dourado was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player. The All-Tournament Team consisted of six Knights, as Oettl, Dourado, Yanis Leerman, Mauricio Villalobos Vega, Beto Ydrach and Gino Vivi all received nods to the squad.

UCF receives the American Athletic Conferences' automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with the win. and returns to the big dance for the third consecutive season. It is the first time they've gone to three straight NCAA Tournaments since they did it in 2002-04. It will be the team's eighth overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

The Knights were picked to finish second in The American's preseason coaches poll. SMU was unanimously picked to win.

The Knights will find out who they'll face in the NCAA Tournament on Monday at noon when the NCAA reveals its bracket on NCAA.com. The field consists of 36 teams and will be hosted at multiple venues around the Cary, North Carolina area.

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