Aug. 26, 2009
By Brian Ormiston
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - It all began in 1981, the first year of UCF women's soccer. The Knights faced a few club teams early on and went 7-0-0 to start the program, outscoring opponents 93-1 in the process. That also was the first time UCF met North Carolina on the pitch.
In the final game of the UCF Invitational, the Tar Heels defeated the Knights, 5-1, then topped the Black and Gold one match later. That did not seem to affect the Knights, as they advanced all of the way to the finals of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Tournament. Waiting for them was North Carolina, which squeaked out a 1-0 decision.
During the season, head coach and UCF Hall of Fame inductee Jim Rudy could tell the sport was going to be huge.
"Women's soccer is ready to explode," said Rudy. "It's like a big snowball and this is the first push. Every major university in the south has a club team with the outlook that they are going to add a varsity team."
He certainly was right.
Women's soccer would be recognized as an NCAA sport just one year later, and UCF and UNC met again in Orlando in the first edition of the NCAA Championship match. In front of a crowd of 1,134, which still stands as a UCF single-match record, the Knights and Tar Heels were scoreless until UNC's Betsy Johnson came off the bench and scored off a rebound in the 43rd minute. Amy Machin put the title away with a goal in the 70th minute.
Before the game, Rudy had trouble determining his starting lineup, as three starters were injured including All-American Linda Gancitano.
"We were pretty banged up going into the match. We tried to push our defenders up the entire match, but they were too strong," Rudy told Soccer America.
The Final Four that year also included top-seed Connecticut and No. 2 Missouri-St. Louis, but it was UCF and North Carolina that put women's soccer on the map.
"It has been especially thrilling for me to watch the development of women's soccer here at Central Florida and to see how popular the sport has become throughout the U.S.," said UCF President Dr. Trevor Colbourn.
And UCF staff spent a lot of time building that popularity, hanging street banners in downtown Orlando as well as on campus buildings. Their efforts did not go unnoticed as Orlando would host the 1983 NCAA Championships as well.
The Knights would eventually tangle with the Tar Heels 18 times with five of those meetings in the NCAA Tournament. Now in 2009, the two programs meet yet again and for the first time since 1999. And UCF will be searching for its first victory over UNC, which enters the week ranked No. 1 in the country. But the Knights are coming off a second-round appearance last year and return eight of their 11 starters, making Friday's match-up in Chapel Hill, N.C., one of the most intriguing of the season.
Along with UNC, UCF clashes with another top-10 team when it meets No. 10 Duke Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Carolina Nike Classic. Live stats for both matches will be available at UCFAthletics.com.
And while all of the players on UCF's and UNC's rosters were not even born back in 1982, the schools set the stage for NCAA women's soccer. In 2008 alone, over 61,000 people attended matches in the NCAA postseason, and close to 10,000 entered the gates for the championship match. It's hard to imagine where college soccer would be today without UCF.
For the latest news on the Knights, log on to UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.