As UCF Women's Soccer gets set for their home opener Sunday night against the Florida Gators, the following day marks a special date in the program's history. Nine years ago, on September 10th, 2009, in front of a then-program-record 1,142 fans (which broke the previous record that stood for 27 years), the Knights knocked off No. 4 Florida State 1-0 in double overtime on a goal by Courtney Whidden:
Game-winning goals were something Whidden had a knack for, with 13 for her career - second all-time in program history behind only UCF Athletic Hall of Famer Kelly Kochevar (1991-1994), who had 20. Whidden is 6th all-time at UCF in goals scored (33), and tied for 9th in points scored (77). She was part of three NCAA Tournament teams (2007-2009) and two C-USA regular season championships (2007 and 2009).
Recently I caught up with Whidden to reflect on her career and that memorable moment nine years ago when the Knights knocked off FSU.
Eric Lopez (E-Lo): What have you been up to since you graduated from UCF?
Courtney Whidden: I continued coaching with the UCF camps every summer while Cromwell and Big D (Donna Fishter) were still in charge, then I transitioned to her staff when she would come here under UCLA to run the Central Florida Soccer Academy in Clermont. I did that for three summers. I was an assistant at Seminole High for one season and then the head coach at Lake Howell for four seasons. I played multiple nights a week in indoor/outdoor adult leagues up until starting our family. I am now married with a 10-month-old, doing the mom thing. We have relocated to Pinellas County to be back by the beach.
E-Lo: What was it that convinced you that UCF was the best place for you to go to school and play soccer?
Whidden: I just had that feeling that UCF was where I was supposed to be. Everyone made me feel so welcome on my official visit.
E-Lo: What was it like playing for Amanda Cromwell?
Whidden: Terrifying! Haha - just kidding. She has expectations that will be met and won't settle for anything less. It is my favorite thing about her and I like to think I developed that same mindset when I became a coach. It was challenging but made me a better player, person and coach and I am forever grateful.
E-Lo: You also mention Donna Fishter and the impact she had on you.
Whidden: When I first started coaching the UCF camps after graduating is where my relationship really started to develop with D. I had grown up a little and maybe started to appreciate the mental side of the game more. I was coaching high school and really bought in to her program. Once the coaching change happened and she branched out I really got involved. I was her assistant for a few NSCAA conventions and was her go-to for whatever she needed (including coffee runs) in exchange for just being surrounded and engulfed in that culture. She challenged me to not only become a better coach but helped me through that tough and never-really-talked-about transition out of the D-I athlete lifestyle. I just can’t really put into words what that woman has done for me and I’d love to have this somehow incorporated.
E-Lo: You were part of one of the greatest senior classes in UCF Women's Soccer history. Have you reflected on your career at UCF and what it was like playing with your teammates on one of the most succesful teams in program history?
Whidden: At the time it was what we were supposed to be doing - winning and making a name for ourselves in the top 25. I didn't think much of it. Now, looking back, I realize what an amazing time that was for us as a group and how much we accomplished. Facebook Time Hop is a constant reminder of what a great time it was for us and I am so thankful to have been a part of it. We helped get UCF in the top 25 consistently and I couldn't be more proud of that.
E-Lo: September 10th, 2009, is perhaps what many fans remember you for the most. You scored the game winning goal in overtime to knock off #4 Florida State at the Complex. Describe that game and moment for you.
Whidden: It was the single greatest moment of my college career. We weren't supposed to win. We weren't supposed to even get to extra time. We refused to be okay with that and everyone gave everything they had. I was the lucky one and was on the end of Becca [Thomas]'s perfect set piece that was set up by Kim [Newsome]'s amazing run down the sideline. My head was in the right place at the right time. It was the coolest experience to celebrate with that massive crowd who were feet off the sideline and ON the field as soon as we won. I remember as soon as the dogpile ended I ran directly to my mom because I knew that was an amazing moment for her as well. She has always been my biggest support system and biggest fan. Turns out she didn't realize I was the one who scored until I ran over to her so the celebration started all over again. It was an amazing moment for the team and our families.
E-Lo: You're one of the all-time best goal scorers in the history of the program. How did you develop the knack and talent of becoming a goal scorer?
Whidden: Honestly, I think its just something I was blessed with. I seemed to be very good at finding that ball inside the 18. I also got to know my teammates and their tendencies so I kind of knew where and when they were going the knock it in. Getting the ball down the field and into the box to me is the difficult part. I owed it to my teammates to make sure their hard work was rewarded with the ball in the back of the net.
E-Lo: Who influenced you and who did you look up to that played soccer?
Whidden: My mom's side of the family is German. My grandfather played for Salzburg in Austria so soccer is and always was part of my life. When they moved to the states he started coaching a local boys' club and as soon as I could walk I had a ball at my feet. He came to every game until he passed when I was in 7th grade, and then it was a play for Opa, show him what you can do. I know he was always watching.
E-Lo: You got a chance to be at the NCAA College Cup in December at Orlando City Soccer Stadium and got to see Coach Cromwell and UCLA in person. What was it like to be at the College Cup in person to see your former coach?
Whidden: I've been lucky to maintain a relationship with Amanda off the field since my time at UCF ended, both working her camps and just hanging. I've gone out to L.A. to hang and get a feel for West Coast life. She was so influential in my coaching style that I wanted to absorb as much as possible. As soon as the College Cup location was released there was never a question that I would be there to support her. It was my first Mom's Night Out after my son was born but I was going to be there no matter what.
E-Lo: How do you want people to remember you and your career?
Whidden: I hope people remember me for making people around me better. The goals were awesome and the wins were better, but at the end of the day, I wanted people to want to be both on and off the field with me. Soccer was always about more than the wins and losses. It's a mentality to always be there for the greater good and that never leaves you.
Hopefully, in the future, many Knight fans will get to remember and see Whidden's accomplishments at UCF Athletics Hall of Fame whenever that returns in the future as Whidden is one of most clutch UCF players in any sport the school has ever produced.
Below are the top six home crowds in UCF Women's Soccer history. The Whidden-led Knights' win over the Noles ranks as the 4th-largest crowd:
Largest Single Home Match Attendance
|6||1,134||North Carolina (NCAA Finals)||11/21/1982|
UCF's 2018 home opener is scheduled for Sunday, September 9th against Florida.