Closing Thoughts on the 2013 NCAA Women’s Soccer Season
by JJ Duke
It’s been about a week since the conclusion of the 2013 NCAA Women’s Soccer Season, giving us plenty of time to think about how to reflect on the past few months. We knew coming into 2013 that this season would be a wild and crazy ride full of unexpected twists and turns. And this season was exactly that. We saw new faces rise to the occasion, new teams take their game to the next level and the season ended with some of the old guard taking a step or two back. Also, most importantly to the plot line, we had a College Cup that involved four teams that never won a National Championship.
Of course, collegiate athletics is always changing. Unlike professional sports where a team can build around a core of players and invest in them for a long period of times, collegiate sports always has a revolving door of cast characters. Every year sees a new class of players enter a program and sees another group leave at the end of the year after playing for that school for four seasons. But still throughout the years, teams have formed identities that makes them stand out from the rest. For some, it may be a coach that has been with the program from Day One and has stayed on board ever since. For others, it might the surroundings that the team plays in that gives the squad an extra boost (i.e. a home field with great fan support). And for others, there is always a bond within a team to find a way to succeed and triumph no matter the circumstances. And for a lot of these top schools that broke through to the College Cup, success from 2013 will no doubt generate great traditions for years to come. Let’s revisit some of the top stories from 2013:
The ACC Only Got Stronger
With the addition of a traditional power in Notre Dame to an already strong ACC, people expressed concern that the Irish were jumping into the Lion’s Den of Women’s collegiate soccer. But not only did Randy Waldrum’s side thrive in it’s debut season in the ACC, overall the conference got stronger. To think…10 of the 14 teams in the conference had a .500 or better overall record while competing in perhaps the deepest and toughest conference in the country. And of those 10 teams, eight went into the NCAA tournament and all eight won at least two games in that Tournament. The play during the conference portion of the season was fun to watch and with all of the exposure that the ACC has to regional and national broadcasting outlets, you got to see a good amount of the action and watch top players progress. Plus, the great thing to take away from the ACC in 2013 was that some teams who in the past hardly ever had a opportunity to break through and separate themselves from the others got that chance this year. Teams like Boston College and Virginia Tech hardly got the limelight in previous seasons but 2013 were in the front and center this year. But at the end of the day, and what was the most surprising to all, an ACC Team didn’t win it all….
The Best of the West Took Home the Glory
Probably not many of you had UCLA winning it all this year. Or even getting into the College Cup. But the beauty of single-elimination tournaments like the NCAA Tournament is if a team gets on a roll, it is very tough to take them down. And that roll UCLA rode didn’t begin at NCAA tournament time, it was a roll that lasted the whole season. I don’t remember a team that played a 26-game season and conceded just eight times the entire season. Eight goals. That number speaks for itself how dedicated this UCLA squad was to being perfect in all facets of the game. And looking at their roster, the team doesn’t have that superstar player that stands out from the rest. But Amanda Cromwell had a roster of 33 excellent players that bought into the system that was laid out and executed it perfectly. And to look at the road that the Bruins took to get to the National Championship, as a two-seed. Which a lot of people thought it was a bit of disrespect giving UCLA a two-seed after going 17-1-2 in the regular season and coasted to a Pac-12 Title, in a conference that still is very powerful in it’s own right. But after downing Stanford and North Carolina just to get to the College Cup, it was destiny that they would unseat the ACC powers and fly back to California with the NCAA Championship. Oh, did I mention they return all but four players for next season? Yeah, there’s that as well. So expect UCLA to be up there at the top of the NCAA mountain come 2014.
Teams and Conferences That Rose and Fell
There was a lot of change that happened in the lead up to this season: Over 40 schools changed conferences this past year, a revamp of the Big East and the introduction of a completely new conference, The American Athletic Conference. You had to figure that some teams would take advantage of the shift and some that wouldn’t while some conferences got stronger and others went in a backward direction. And it happened, both in expected and unexpected sources. The teams that went on the rise (outside of the surprises in the ACC) included teams like Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Michigan, Nebraska and Washington State. For some teams, they were coming into a “rebuilding” year yet still played some quality soccer and surprised a lot of people while others put together runs that came out of nowhere and made sure that people now know who they are for the coming years. On the flip side, the split of the “Old” Big East hurt all parties. Georgetown and Marquette had solid conference seasons but faltered in the NCAA tournament. And for the AAC, outside of UCF (who dropped out of the NCAA Tournament in Round One), it might take a few years for the conference to find it’s true identity as Rutgers and Louisville bolt for other conferences. Out west, Denver cruised through their Summit League schedule without blinking. But after playing a low-tier conference schedule and then having to play an inspired Colorado in Round One of the tournament, the lack of playing a slate of schools quickly caught up to them. This will probably be the last year for awhile seeing the Pioneers being a seeded team in the NCAA Tournament.
Four Years Are Up…
It will be hard for someone to find a deeper senior class in the NCAA than the one that will be graduating this year. The class of 2013 boasted senior squad internationals, U-20 Women’s World Cup winners and players that will turn into top professionals wherever they end up going. In putting together a list of potential players that could get drafted in the 2014 NWSL College Draft, I got up to 60 graduating seniors on that list and didn’t see a drop off of talent. For teams losing these seniors, it will be a challenge to fill the shoes of a Crystal Dunn or a Julie Johnston for next season. But again, those are the challenges that college coaches face. You get a player for four years and that window comes and goes pretty quickly.
But You Will See These Players Again Next Year
But then again, there are always players that are ready to break through come the next season. And there is a lot of quality players that will take to the college scene again in 2014. You will get another year of seeing the likes of Virginia’s Morgan Brian, Florida State’s Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Texas A&M’s Shea Groom, Georgetown’s Daphne Corboz, Notre Dame’s and UCLA’s….well nearly the entire Notre Dame and UCLA team that you saw in 2013. So yes, while players that will graduate this year will be missed, we will still have a lot of great soccer to see in 2014.
So How Did We Do in 2013?
Once the 2013 season was over, I was curious to see how Our Game Magazine’s preseason poll from August’s College Issue fared against how the season ended. Obviously, it is near impossible to predict how a season will go before it starts because you never know what variables will get thrown into the equation (injuries, national team call ups, fate, etc) but here was the Top 25 we put out in August and where each team finished up in the NCAA Tournament, as well in parenthesis where the team was ranked by the NCAA at season’s end:
OGM’s Preseason Top 25
1. North Carolina- lost in Quarterfinals (5)
2. Penn State- lost in 2nd Round (RV)
3. UCLA- NCAA Champions (1)
4. Notre Dame- lost in 3rd Round (14)
5. Stanford- lost in 3rd Round (9)
6. Virginia- lost in College Cup Semifinals (3)
7. Duke- lost in Quarterfinals (18)
8. Florida State- National Runners-up (2)
9. Texas A&M- Lost in 3rd Round (8)
10. Santa Clara- Lost in 3rd Round (7)
11. Michigan- Lost in Quarterfinals (6)
12. BYU- Lost in 2nd Round (23)
13. Georgetown- Lost in 2nd Round (20)
14. Marquette- Lost in 1st Round (16)
15. Wake Forest- Lost in 3rd Round (21)
16. Maryland- No NCAA Tournament Berth (no votes)
17. West Virginia- Lost in 2nd Round (12)
18. California- Lost in 1st Round (RV)
19. UCF- Lost in 1st Round (22)
20. Texas Tech- Lost in 2nd Round (17)
21. Portland- Lost in 2nd Round (11)
22. Tennessee- No NCAA Tournament Berth (no votes)
23. San Diego State- Lost in 1st Round (no votes)
24. Denver- Lost in 1st Round (24)
25. Harvard- Lost in 1st Round (no votes)
Honorable Mention: Baylor- No NCAA Tournament Berth (no votes), Virginia Tech- Lost in College Cup Semifinals (4), Ohio State- Lost in 1st Round (no votes) , Pepperdine- No NCAA Tournament Berth (no votes), Florida- Lost in 2nd Round (10), LSU- No NCAA Tournament Berth (no votes)
So, we didn’t do terribly at the end of the day. Some selections were better than others and some not so much. And we do apologize to Virginia Tech for not giving them as much consideration back in August, but your team made us, like a lot of other people, believers in the Hokies program for future years.
What’s to Come for 2014?
That’s for you to tell us. What do you all think that we should expect come next fall in the NCAA. Are there any stories that we don’t know about that could play a big factor in 2014? Will the loaded squads that come back to UCLA, Virginia, Florida State, Notre Dame, etc reach the College Cup next year? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Thanks to all who followed OGM’s College Coverage this year and there will be more to come for 2014 for sure.
JJ Duke graduated from Rider University in New Jersey with a degree in Digital Media Studies. While his playing days may have ended back in high school, he still prides himself of being a decent shot-stopper and an all-around fanatic of the beautiful game (fervent supporter of Manchester United and the founder of a Rider supporters group, the 206 Ultras). He is the Student General Manager at 107.7 The Bronc at Rider and has contributed to various local newspaper and Web sites in the Trenton, NJ area of high school and collegiate sports including The Rider News and Fish4Scores.com. He became involved with Our Game Magazine early in 2012 when upon following OGM on Twitter, he was contacted within minutes (which caught him by surprise) by Tiffany about working with the team. After spending the summer covering the USL W-League and the WPSL-Elite league as an intern, he is looking forward to continue working with the OGM team, especially on games in the US.