Last year, when the UConn women’s soccer team took on the UCF Knights in Florida, the game was relatively slow. Each team recorded five shots, Rachel Hill had three shots in the first half, and Emily Armstrong made some good saves to preserve the tie.
The difference was who scored at the end of the first half. In last year’s contest, the Knights netted a goal with a little over one minute of play left, giving UCF a 1-0 advantage going into halftime (UConn ended up coming back and winning 3-2).
This year, it was just the opposite; in terms of the first half, anyway. With 30 seconds left on the clock, Hill was fouled on the sideline and Stephanie Ribeiro took the free kick. She launched it into the box, right to redshirt senior defender Toriana Patterson, who dribbled one past UCF goalkeeper Chloe N’Gazi for her first career goal to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.
“Let me tell you, this game was not easy,” head coach Len Tsantiris said. “She was getting closer and closer [to her first goal], she goes, she attacks; but it was a great ball by Steph, though. Right up the middle.”
Just five minutes earlier, Hill had received a yellow card after getting tied up with the Knights’ starting goalkeeper Vera Varis, causing Varis to leave the game with an apparent injury. Despite the circumstances, the Huskies were able to end the first half with a bang, giving them some momentum going into the second half.
Varis returned to the net at the start of the second half.
Although UCF only recorded six shots in the first half, Armstrong had her work cut out for her. She made a number of big saves to preserve the 0-0 tie, including a leaping midair save at the 35-minute mark.
She also recorded another crucial save around the 53-minute mark, as UCF dominated control in the beginning of the second half for a few minutes. Three corner kicks and three shots later, Armstrong prevented the Knights from striking with heads-up goalkeeping on the post.
“After making a great save, my teammates have my back. They’re coming over and congratulating me,” Armstrong said. “And, you know, it’s my job. While it’s awesome, you know, I’m just doing what I’m meant to do as a goalkeeper. But, it definitely feels good knowing that I’ve maybe contributed to getting some energy behind my teammates and going forward.”
She finished the game with eight saves. While that doesn’t seem like a big number, it is in par with how good Armstrong’s performance has been this season, Tsantiris said.
“She’s been stepping up the whole season. She’s a quality keeper,” Tsantiris said. “She kept us in the game down in Texas; she made some big-time saves, and she made some big-time saves today.”
GOALS, GOALS AND MORE GOALS
The second half was the time to score—for the Huskies, that is. While Patterson scored her first goal of the season in the first half, the two who scored in the second half are very familiar names: Hill and Ribeiro.
After winning possession three quarters of the way down the field in the 57th minute, Ribeiro saw a golden opportunity. Hill was running downfield, and Ribeiro didn’t think twice. She launched the ball downfield, right to the feet of Hill. She charged straight past a UCF defender, outrunning her right up to the goal. Hill shot a laser right past a diving Varis, giving UConn a 2-0 lead.
Nine minutes later, Ribeiro went solo. She stole a ball away from defenders in UCF territory, running past them and lining the ball into the back of the net to secure a 3-0 cushion for the Huskies.
Ribeiro finished the night with two assists and a goal, good for a total of four points. She now leads the team in points with 36 in total.