No. 20 Texas soccer draws with Central Florida to end non-conference schedule with best start since 2018

Evan Vieth, Sports Reporter

Late heroics from star striker Trinity Byars saved No. 20 Texas soccer from losing against Central Florida on Sunday. The Knights and Longhorns battled for 90 long minutes and ended in a 2-2 tie.

Sunday’s match at Mike A. Myers Stadium proved to be more challenging than Thursday’s affair against winless Texas Southern. With the Longhorns’ hot start to the season at 6-1-1, Sunday’s win marked their best start since 2018, when they started 7-0-1.

The 2-2-3 Knights, though winless in their last three games before facing the Longhorns, put up close battles against No. 15 Ole Miss and No. 2 North Carolina, both of which ended in 2-1 defeats.

The Longhorns were first to pressure the Knight, as a back-and-forth first 12 minutes led to sophomore forward Trinity Byars breaking past Central Florida’s defense around midfield. She sent in a cross to sophomore midfielder Lexi Missimo, who nearly slotted the ball past 2021 AAC first-team keeper Caroline DeLisle. 

Central Florida seemed to be the team in control in the latter half of the first half with multiple threatening attacks, including a shot from fifth-year forward Mallory Olson and a cross that nearly converted if not for heroics from Texas goalkeeper Savannah Madden to stop a ball that almost deflected in off of senior Cameron Brooks. 

“We’re so incredibly grateful for Savannah,” Kelly said, “She’s a rock back there.”

Despite dominant possession from the Knights all first half, Texas was the first team to capitalize. The shaky and tired Central Florida defense allowed for an advantage for the Longhorns, and one of the most dominant sophomore duos in the nation took full advantage.

“Those two have a special relationship and special connection,” Kelly said. “You know that every team is preparing and organizing for how to stop them.”

Byars’ short pass to Missimo set up Texas’ star midfielder for a one-on-one with DeLisle, and Missimo converted with style, striking with her right foot and beating DeLisle to her left, giving the Longhorns a 1-0 lead. 

“It feels like every time I play a ball I know exactly where she is,” Byars said about Missimo.

However, the Knights didn’t let that shake them, however, as just 40 seconds later, a run by Martin on the left wing led her past the Texas defense and into a scoring position. Martin slotted the shot past Madden and into the bottom right of the goal, evening up the score. 

Both goals came in the 43rd minute of play, and at half the game was tied at 1-1, with UCF owning 57% of the possession.

A slow second half didn’t see much action until the 60th minute when Texas had a golden opportunity to take the lead. Central Florida senior defender Marta Estupinan made a costly turnover inside the box, passing right to Missimo and giving her a shot on goal against DeLisle. The keeper calmly saved the strike, and though the rebound fell to Byars, a second shot didn’t reach the net, resulting in a corner that was not converted.

“(DeLisle) made an unbelievable save on Lexi (Missimo) with that one-hander,” Kelly said.

Seven minutes later, Central Florida senior forward Anna Henderson sent a dangerous cross toward goal from the right side. The ball ricocheted from just outside the six-yard box past Madden to give the Knights a 2-1 lead. At first, it was unclear how the ball got past Madden, but the goal was given against the Longhorns. 

The Longhorns looked debilitated and winded throughout the next 20 minutes, but in the last five minutes, Byars became the hero yet again. A long ball sent her past the Knights’ defense, and her pace allowed her to beat DeLisle to the ball. After a shot that DeLisle saved, the rebound went right back to Byars, and the star sophomore shot it into the back of the net. With just four minutes left, the Longhorns were back in it.

“Ange tells us before every game, we need 10 shots every half,” Byars said. “We try to set that goal and exceed it.”

The Longhorns ranked top 10 in the nation in shots per game coming into Sunday’s game when they registered another 16. 

That didn’t stop the Knights, though, as Martin again broke past the Longhorn’s defense. It looked like Central Florida was about to steal three points from the Longhorns in a heartbreaking end, but Madden saved the day yet again. Though Martin’s shot wasn’t the best placed, Madden kept her body in front of the ball and made sure there was no rebound. Byars’ goal remained the last of the game.

The last two minutes were jam-packed with action, no more goals were scored and the final score ended in a 2-2 tie – a strong result for the Knights against a ranked opponent.

The Longhorns will next take on No. 17 TCU on Thursday to open conference play. 

“It’s going to be a battle,” Kelly said.  “UCF definitely moved the ball and exposed us, this is a game that will only serve us great purpose going forward.”