ORLANDO – Fresh off a third consecutive home-opener triumph, the UCF women’s soccer (2-1-0) team, receiving votes in the latest top 25 rankings, will look to conclude its away non-conference slate on a high against one of the nation’s top squads when it traves to No. 4/6 Penn State (Top Drawer/United Soccer Coaches).
The match is slated for a 7:30 p.m. start on Thursday night at Jeffrey Field in University Park, Pennsylvania, and be streamed live on Big Ten Plus. Live stats will be available here.
Tabbed as the preseason favorite in the Big Ten Coaches Poll, the Nittany Lions welcome the Knights to Happy Valley off the back of two consecutive victories against Big 12 opponents, defeating West Virginia (2-1) and TCU (1-0). The two programs will meet for just the fourth time, with the last meeting serving as a precursor for what is sure to be an entertaining 90 minutes, as UCF defeated then-No. 7 Penn State, 2-1 in Orlando to swing the series in favor of the Knights with two wins to the Nittany Lions’ one.
Head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak knows her squad can continue to grow following the 2-1 victory versus North Florida in the home opener. After the match, Sahaydak was proud of the team for grinding out the victory as Xavier transfer Chloe Netzel provided the winning goal in the 72nd minute but knew there was plenty more to be desired. A first-half goal from Ellie Moreno, the fifth year’s first of the season, got the Knights off the mark in front of the home faithful. Netzel’s career in black and gold if off to a flying start, with three contributions to her name (two goals and one assist). She assisted Dayana Martin’s match-winner at Purdue and buried home a corner kick at Georgia a week later, providing an ariel threat for the Knights offense.
The triumph against the Ospreys extended the Knights home unbeaten run to six matches dating back to a 2-1 win over SMU on Oct. 9, 2022. That streak is the longest in the Big 12, as the Knights will welcome in-state rivals FAU and USF to Orlando before beginning their conference slate versus West Virginia on Sept. 14. Moreover, the Knights have not been shutout in their last 14 matches, which is the longest streak of any team in the Big 12. Roberts Sahaydak’s high-flying offense has been among the best in the nation as UCF hasn’t failed to score since a 0-0 draw at Memphis on Sept. 15, 2022. Since then, the Knights have notched 23 goals across 14 outings.
There has been a wide variety of goal contributions throughout the squad, as six separate Knights have assists under their belt. The 2022 AAC All-Freshman Team honoree Mia Asenjo notched her first career assist on Moreno’s first-half goal last Sunday. The buildup saw an incredible run from Martin, as she too collected her first assist of the season. Right back Sanja Homann played a beautiful cross off a short corner from Polly Watson to Netzel, as both Homann and Watson collected their first assists of the season.
The Nittany Lions have presented an array of strong performances through their first four matches of the season. A non-conference schedule that could be mistaken for that of a Big 12 conference slate has given Penn State familiarity with two future Knights opponents. Following a scoreless draw at both Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak and Tim Sahaydak’s alma matter, No. 4 North Carolina, Penn State defeated Division II West Chester 8-0 in its home opener. A trip down country roads led the Nittany Lions to Morgantown, West Virginia for a meeting with the Mountaineers to open a three-match Big 12 bout. The Nittany Lions defeated the reigning Big 12 tournament champions 2-1 following the first of two consecutive match-winners from Kaitlyn MacBean.
In University Park against TCU, Penn State shut out the Horned Frogs as MacBean scored her second match-winner in as many outings in the 77th minute to keep the Nittany Lions unbeaten. Currently embarking on her third season leading the Big Ten giants, Erica Dambach continues to be one of the top collegiate coaches in the nation. Penn State has made the NCAA tournament 16 consecutive seasons, including its 2015 national title and 11 Big Ten regular-season championships.
Dambach returns a talented squad that boasts one of the nation’s top defenses. Through four matches, the Nittany Lions have allowed just one goal as their 0.25 goals against average (GAA) is tied atop the Big Ten and ranked 33rd nationally. Similar to the Knights, Penn State made great work of the transfer portal, landing the nation’s leading returning scorer, Rebecca Cooke, from Quinnipiac. Their returning offensive weapon, Payton Linnehan has continued her form from 2022 where she scored six and assisted eight. Through the opening stretch of her fifth year in blue and white, the preseason Big Ten player to watch has two goals, along with Julia Raich and the aforementioned MacBean.
- Fifth year Caroline DeLisle remains tied for fourth in career shutouts with 27. After a dominating display at Purdue, DeLisle will look to move into sole possession of third place at Penn State, her second career appearance against the Nittany Lions.
- Netzel will strive to make it four consecutive matches with a goal contribution and three consecutive matches with a goal. The last Knight to score in three straight matches was Kristen Scott who notched goals against SMU (10/9), Cincinnati (10/13), and Tulsa (10/16) in 2022.
- Preseason All-Big 12 honoree Dayana Martin is one assist away from 10 all-time and 30 career points. With 10 goals to her name, the Boca Raton native will look to enter double digits in both categories tomorrow night.