ORLANDO – Thursday night at the UCF Soccer Complex will long live in the history of UCF Athletics, as women’s soccer (5-2-0) engraved the first-ever Big 12 conference match win by any program at the school into the new era that will soon lead to many other first. An action-packed 90 minutes saw goals from three separate Knights as UCF defeated West Virginia, 4-2. The frontline all secured their first conference goals of the season as Dayana Martin, Ellie Moreno, and Chloe Netzel now have 10 goals between them in the 2023 campaign.
Even though it was a big game tonight entering the Big 12, we talking about taking it one game at a time. I'm just proud of the team for getting it done, it was a full team effort, both the attack and the defense were great through the 90 minutes.
The first 10 minutes were a stern reminder of how cruel soccer can be at times, as the Mountaineers struck against the run of the play following an energetic and promising opening sequence from the Knights. Two corners and an Ellie Moreno shot set the perfect tone that Roberts Sahaydak was looking for from her starting 11, though the pressure preceded a fruitful build-up from West Virginia. Taylor White’s first pass into the box was deflected right back to her feet as the do-over fell to Isabel Loza who put it away with her right, giving the Mountaineers the early lead.
As if nothing had happened, the Knights picked up right where they left off with a continued presence in the final third. Four shots in five minutes shifted the momentum right back in UCF’s favor as the backline brushed off the West Virginia goal with an added sense of composure. The Knights then returned the favor, hitting the Mountaineers on the counter following Talia Gabarra’s interception in the UCF half. Having not registered an assist since Oct. 7, 2021, Gabarra played a beautiful ball that split the West Virginia backline and played Martin clear. With 10 career goals to her name and six seasons preceding her, Martin made her mark in the history of UCF athletics, slotting the ball past the keeper to level the match at one-all and give the Knights their first-ever Big 12 conference game goal.
Our first Big 1️⃣2️⃣ goal in UCF history belongs to Day 🤩 pic.twitter.com/PFwxcLKHae— UCF Women's Soccer (@UCF_WSoccer) September 14, 2023
Talia picked up her head and we made that connection before she played it, so right when that ball came through my mission was just straight to goal.
With the sun setting over the UCF Soccer Complex, the Knights continued their habit of scoring in pairs. As if you could predict it with all the confidence in the world, Moreno notched her fifth goal in four home matches following a Martin pass that she curled past the Mountaineers’ Mackenzie Smith. The fifth year has now matched her career high in goals in just seven matches, a remarkable form that’s shifted the Knights attack into second gear during non-conference and now into Big 12 play. Mia Asenjo picked up her second assist of the season and of her career on the transitional sequence.
Ellie just really loves scoring in O-Town 🌴☀️ pic.twitter.com/eagkXzuym0— UCF Women's Soccer (@UCF_WSoccer) September 14, 2023
At the half, UCF had outshot West Virginia nine to six, as the Knights have now led at the half in five of their seven matches thus far. UCF’s nine shots in the first 45 are the most since its 2-0 victory at South Florida on Oct. 27, 2022. The Mountaineers made a switch between the posts ahead of the final 45, bringing on reigning Big 12 Goalkeeper of the Year, Kayza Massey.
The momentum had clearly stayed with UCF through the break. Maggie Jenkens switched play with a pass across the pitch into the on-running Netzel, whose first touch continues to impress, took on her defender at the top of the box. After cutting onto her right, it was almost as if time was moving twice as slowly; her eyes shifting up at the goal. The proclaimed “Air Netzel” scored a stunner, curling the ball into the top-right, leaving the crossbar shaking. Netzel notched her fourth of the season and moved her career tally to 16.
A Jessica McCullen foul led to a goal from the spot for the Mountaineers as Julianne Vallerand slotted the penalty home to put the game within reach.
As if the Knights were programmed before the match, it took just 30 seconds longer for UCF to respond after conceding their second goal of the match. Martin, whose pace on the right-hand side had been creating opportunities for the Knights all game, beat her defender before delivering a ball that was almost put away by Jenkins before deflecting off West Virginia’s Mackenzie Aunkst into her own goal. With the lead back at two, UCF fortified its defense while Caroline DeLisle made some highlight-worthy saves down the stretch, securing a historic victory for both the program and the university.
The triumph notched many firsts for the squad, foremast an inaugural conference win as a member of the Big 12. It also marked the first victory over West Virginia in the programs’ first meeting since 1999.
It won’t be an unfamiliar occasion for the Knights next Thursday as they travel to Houston for their first-ever Big 12 matchup with the Cougars. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.