Florida Gulf Coast University women’s soccer team is headed to Lynchburg, Virginia to take on Liberty University for the ASUN Championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament Friday night.
The Eagles return to the ASUN Championship for the first time since 2017 while it’s No. 1 seed Liberty’s first appearance in the ASUN title game. The winner gets an automatic berth into the NCAA bracket, which the Eagles haven’t seen since 2017.
FGCU is 5-2 in all-time contests with Liberty, with the second loss coming this year. The 2-0 loss was the largest margin of victory between the two squads, with no previous contest being more than a one-goal win.
“To start the season, it’s what we expect,” FGCU head coach Jim Blankenship said. “In the last couple of years we’ve fallen short, for multiple reasons, so I think with this group it’s been kind of ‘Don’t take this for granted, because it hasn’t happened the last couple of years.'”
Blankenship earned his 100th ASUN win in October, and now has a chance to lead the Eagles to a conference title in the same year, his seventh in 16 years at the helm.
“I honestly didn’t realize it was at 100 until we won and one of the kids told me,” Blankenship said. “And honestly, we’re at a point where that’s not important. In sports, ultimately, you want to play to the very end.”
The Eagles (12-5-1, 8-1-1) have earned their bid in the conference title match, defeating the University of North Florida in the quarterfinals 1-0, and coming out on top of a 3-2 double overtime thriller over the University of Central Arkansas.
In the opening round of the conference playoffs, the No. 2 Eagles hosted the No. 7 Ospreys (4-8-5, 3-3-4) in a defensive slugfest that saw the contest’s lone score coming from Margaret Berry’s 74th-minute goal.
In the semifinals, FGCU hosted No. 6 UCA (7-9-3, 4-4-2) after they knocked off the defending conference champion Lipscomb Bisons, who held the title since 2018.
“With that game, and even though their young, part of it is learning how to win again, and how to win in big moments,” Blankenship said. “So for us, that was truly exciting. I’m just impressed with the kids, they’ve been resilient. We’ve been through a lot, and they continue to take on every challenge.”
The match was scoreless in the first half, but quickly after the start of the second half, the floodgates opened. Marla Gaudlitz broke the ice in the 55th minute, with the Bears answering back in the 63rd.
Leah Scarpelli scored off a Louise Lilliback corner kick in the 83rd minute to give FGCU the late lead, but UCA responded with their own score again, this time less than two minutes later off a defensive miscue from the Eagles.
“It’s the emotion of there’s still minutes left,” Blankenship said. “Six minutes left and you score, so it’s at your fingertips, and then literally a minute later it’s like, uh-oh, the high’s no longer there. Now we’re going to have to regroup.”
After a scoreless first overtime, ASUN Freshman of the Year Erika Zschuppe punched the Eagles’ ticket to the title game after she took a pass from Grace Paradis from inside the box and found the upper left corner of the net.