Aaliyah Nolan is returning to the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Championship after the University of North Texas retained their Conference USA title at the weekend.
The Mean Green edged the University of Southern Mississippi 2-1 on a golden goal in extra time at the ODU Soccer Complex in Norfolk, Virginia, on Sunday, with Nolan getting her name on the scoresheet.
The 21-year-old Bermuda striker opened the scoring with her eleventh goal of the season from a free kick to make amends for failing to convert an earlier penalty.
However, Ola Akinniyi grabbed a late equaliser for Southern Mississippi to send the final into added time where Lauryn Bruffett’s 106th-minute winner finally settled the tight affair to land her team their second title, having clinched the regular season championship on October 24.
“This is the best season I’ve had here in my two years,” Nolan told The Royal Gazette. “Finishing up my last collegiate season winning two titles and going to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in a row is pretty wonderful.”
Nolan and her team-mates will resume their school’s quest for a maiden win in the championship away to No 3 ranked Texas A&M University in the first round on Friday.
“I think we have a stronger team than last year and can actually win our first game,” Nolan said. “Everyone on the team would love to make a run in the NCAA and we would be ecstatic to make history by winning our first NCAA game.”
Nolan’s team were eliminated in the first round of last year’s championship after losing 3-0 at the University of Texas Longhorn.
The 2018 Conference USA All-Conference Second Team player also played an integral role in helping her school clinch the regular season title last month, netting both goals in an extra-time 2-1 victory at Middle Tennessee.
“We knew we had to win that game to become regular season champions,” she said. “We went down 1-0 but didn’t give up.
“I was ecstatic to win the regular season title because last year we didn’t win it, although we did win the conference tournament. To win both tournaments this season was pretty wonderful.”
Nolan’s display led to her being named Conference Offensive Player of the Week for the first time this season.
“I was proud to be recognised for my talent,” she said. “I did much better this season. I doubled my goals from last season and my fitness was much better.
“The pre-season started in July but I came back in May and was going to the gym working with one of our fitness coaches.”