College Soccer News annually acknowledges those programs that had special seasons. The 2016 season was a shinning season for the schools identified. They may have greatly exceeded expectations, had more wins that ever before, accomplished something that will likely be a springboard for future seasons, or put together an impropable run. Regardless of the reason, it was a season that will be remembered, that will always be a source of pride and accomplishment for those involved, and that will have a positive impact on the program for years to come.
Stanford - No team had a better season than Standord. It does not happen often but the Cardinal defied the odds with back-to-back national championships. As a result Stanford belongs on the top of the list.
The Cardinal entered the 2016 season with high expectations tempered with the fact that they had several key gaps to plug from the 2015 National Championship team. After a slow start to the season in which they they were 0-1-3, everything began to come together for a Stanford side that gelled as a unified team and steadily improved under the guidance of head coach Jeremy Gunn.
The Cardinal proceeded to secure their third consecutive Pac-12 title with an 8-1-1 mark in conference play and their second consecutive National Championship by advancing past Pacific, Virginia, Louisville, North Carolina and Wake Forest in the NCAA Tournament during which time a tenacious defense did not allow an opponent to score a single goal.
Junior goalkeeper Andrew Epstein, junior forward Foster Langsdorf and junior defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce were All-America selections for a team that displayed a ton of talent, grit, and heart throughout the entire season.
Wake Forest - Another stellar season. The Demon Deacons recorded another banner season under second year head coach Bobby Muuss during which they advanced past Notre Dame, Louisville, and Clemson to win the extremely competitive Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
They were subsequently awarded the number two seek in the NCAA Tournament and played their way into the national championship match by defeating Coastal Carolina, SIUE, Virginia Tech and Denver. In the national final Wake Forest and Stanford were evenly matched but when it was all said and done Stanford prevailed 5-4 in penalty kicks after the contest was scoreless at the end of regulation and two ten-minute overtime periods.
Wake Forest finished the season with a 19-3-3 overall record. The support, loyalty and not to mention success that this program has enjoyed over the years was reflected in the large number of former Demon Deacon players who were present at the College Cup in Houston to support Wake Forest.
Senior midfielder Ian Harkes was named the 2016 MAC Hermann Trophy winner. Harkes, along with senior midfielder Jacori Hayes and redshirt senior goalkeeper Alec Ferrell were consensus All-America selections. Midfielder Ema Twumasi who also had a banner season was named to the College Soccer News All-Freshman team.
It was a great season for a team that came within a penalty kick of winning the 2016 National Championship.
University of Denver - The bar of excellene was forever raised at Denver in 2016. In 2015 the Pioneers entered the NCAA Tournament with a 15-0-3 overall record and a number thirteen seed. However their season came to an abrupt and unexpected end when they where topped by SMU at home in their opening contest in the NCAA Tourney to take a little shine off what had otherwise been a banner season.
No doubt the memory of that loss helped keep the Pioneers focused in 2016 as a very determined and talented team took the program to a new level as they claimed their fourth straight Summit League title and entered the NCAA Tournament with a 17-0-3 overall record along with a number six seed. The Pioneers under the direction of second year head coach Jamie Franks then topped UNLV, Washington, and number three seed Clemson on the road to advance to their first ever College Cup where a record breaking season came to an end when they were topped by Wake Forest 2-1 in overtime in the national semifinals to finish the season with a 20-1-3 overall record.
The Denver coaching staff consisting of Franks, Ryan Hopkins, Levi Rossi, Zander Deitz, Mac Hemmi, Dan Jackson, Matt Shaw and Michael Eckert were named the NSCAA National Coaching Staff of the Year. Redshirt senior defender Reagan Dunk was a consensus All-American selection.
Virginia Tech - The Hokies greatly exceeded expectations in 2016 with a breakthrough season. After four wins in 2013, seven in 2014 and five in 2015, everything fell into place for Virginia Tech under the direction of head coach Mike Brizendine in 2016 when they rolled to a 13-5-4 overall record and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2007 season.
The Hokies had key regular season wins over Ohio State, South Florida, Georgetown, and Delaware among others and a tie with Charlotte to go undefeated during regular season play when facing non-conference opponents. .
The Hokies then put an exclamation mark on a very special season with wins in the NCAA Tournament over East Tennessee State at home followed by upset victories over number ten seed Charlotte and number seven seed Indiana on the road to advance to the Elite Eight where they were topped by Wake Forest.
Virginia Tech newcomer junior forward Marcelo Acuna (11g, 3a) was an impact player who added an additional dimension to the Hokie attack. Acuna was recognized as an All-South Region First Team selection and named an NSCAA Third Team All-American,
Albany - The Great Danes 2016 season can be summed up in one word - Historic. The 2016 campaign was a year of firsts for the Great Danes.
Albany gave notice that they were for real with an eye opening signature regular season win over top ten ranked Syracuse. They won a program high thirteen games, secured the program's first ever America East Championship by advancing past Vermont and Hartford in the League Tournament to claim the program's first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Great Danes were subsequently awarded the number fourteen seed in the NCAA Tournament and topped Boston College 3-0 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen where a truly special season came to an end when they were topped on the road 3-1 by number three seed Clemson.
Albany, which flew under the radar on the national scene for most of the year, concluded the 2016 campaign ranked as the number seventeen team in the nation in the final NSCAA poll and as the number eighteen season in the final College Soccer News poll.
Look for the Great Danes under the direction of head coach Trevor Gorman to utilize the 2016 season as a springboard for even greater accomplishments in the seasons to come.
Portland - 2016 was a season that Portland will build on. A good case can be made that no first year head coach in the country had a more immediate positive impact in 2016 than Portland's Nick Carlin-Voight.
The Pilots won a total of just one contest in West Coast Conference play in 2014 and 2015. In 2016 they improved to 6-1-0 in conference play and claimed the WCC title for the first time since the 2002 campaign. As a result they returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 2009 season.
Portland's 12-5-2 overall record included seven consecutive regular season wins which was the program's longest winning streak since back in 1995.
The success the program enjoyed in 2016 resulted in a renewed level of excitement and support for the program as reflected in the crowd of 4,362 partisan fans that were present at Merlo Field to witness the Pilots final regular season contest.
Forward Eddie Sanchez (6g, 7a) was named the WCC Player of the Year and was a College Soccer News Third Team All-American. Forward Benji Michel (10g, 4a) was honored as the WCC Freshman of the Year and was a College Soccer News All-Freshman Team selection.
UMass Lowell - Wow! The 2016 campaign was aptly described as "Season for the Ages" at UMass Lowell based on the success the program enjoyed even despite the fact that the River Hawks were ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA reclassifying rules.
After an 8-9-1 overall record in 2015 that included a 2-4-1 mark in America East Conference play, UMass Lowell had a breakout season in 2016 that warrants a prominent spot on the short list of teams with a turnaround season. The River Hawks were 13-1-2 overall in 2016 with a 5-1-1 record in league play to secure the America East regular season title for the first time in the history of the program.
Senior Wuilito Fernandez (11g, 5a) and redshirt freshman Ivan Abramovic (9g, 8a) were part of a UMass attack that netted a total of twenty-nine goals while senior back Eric Martin and junior netminder Austin Kroll anchored a rock solid defensive that held opponents to a total of only twelve goals. Fernandez was named an All-American by both the NSCAA and College Soccer News. Abramovic was named to the CSN All-Freshman team. Head coach Christian Figueroa and his staff of Bob Thompson, Frankie D'Agostino, Abel Wassua and Keady Segel were named the NSCAA East Region Coaching Staff of the Year.
After the final contest of the year Figueroa accurately summed up the 2016 campaign and the momentum it has created when he stated, "It's exciting, it's an exciting time for this program right now."
Pacific - Hold that Tiger! They called the 2016 season as "A Season for the Books" and indeed it was. After recording a 1-15-1 overall record in 2015, the Tigers roared out to a 13-4-2 record in 2016 that included signature wins over San Diego State and Portland, they finished second in the West Coast Conference, they secured the program's first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament, and they advanced past CSUN in the first round before losing to eventual national champion Stanford in the second round of play.
It warrants pointing out that the 11.5 win-loss improvement at Pacific between the 2015 and 2016 seasons is tied for the best improvement in NCAA history. .
The 2016 season was just the third season since the men's soccer program at Pacific was reinstated. Pacific head coach Ryan Jordan summed up what his team accomplished in 2016 and what it bodes for the future when he stated, "They have done everything we have asked. It's been encouraging as we look at the development." Jordan added, "I'm really looking forward to the direction we can continue to go over the course of the next few years."
Junior forward Tristan Blackmon (4g, 5a) and senior midfielder Julio Cervantes (9g, 3a) were NSCAA All-Far West Region First Team selections. Jordan and his staff of Jordan Ferrell, Matt Gow, and Avneet Shergill were honored as the NSCAA Far West Region Coaching Staff of the Year.
Loyola Chicago - The 2016 season was a record setting and difference making season at Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers took a giant step forward in 2016 making their presence known on the national scene and in the Missouri Valley Conference with a single-season school record fourteen wins that bodes well for the continued success of the program in the future.
Loyola Chicago won the regular season MVC title with a 6-1-1 mark in league play, they were a perfect 9-0-0 at games played at Loyola Soccer Park, they earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, and topped UIC 2-0 to secure the program's first NCAA Tournament victory.
The Ramblers concluded the season ranked as the number twenty-one team in the country in both the NSCAA and College Soccer News season ending polls.
Redshirt junior Andrew Chekadanov, junior forward Elliot Collier and redshirt sophomore Grant Stoneman were NSCAA All-West Region First Team selectins.
Neil Jones will enter his fifth season at the helm of a program in 2017 with a very solid foundation in place and with a team that looks to have the talent, depth, drive, and big play ability to build on the success they enjoyed in 2016.
FGCU - The Eagles soared in 2016. FGCU was 14-4-3 overall with a 4-1-1 mark in Atlantic Sun Conference play in 2016 establishing a new program record for wins in a single season that featured an impressive ten game winning streak. The Eagles claimed their fourth ASUN championship in the past six seasons and their fourth berth in the NCAA Tournament. FGCU then topped in-state rival South Florida in the NCAA Tourney in a match that was decided by a penalty kick shootout to advance to the second round for the first time.
Albert Ruiz (22g, 5a) and Arion Sobers-Assue (11g, 11a) led a multi-dimensional, high powered, and extremely explosive FGCU offense in 2016 that scored a total of fifty-five goals.
Ruiz was named an All-American by the NSCAA and College Soccer News and was one of the three finalists for the 2016 MAC Hermann Trophy.
For their accomplishments, head coach Bob Butehorn and his staff of Joe Dincecco, Henry Apaloo, and Eduardo Villarreal were named the NSCAA Southeast Region Coaching Staff of the Year. The Eagles were ranked twentieth in the final NSCAA poll and as the number twenty-two team in the country in the final College Soccer News poll.
At the conclusion of the season, Butehorn resigned from the head coaching job at FGCU after ten highly successful seasons to accept the head coaching job at South Florida which became vacant when George Kiefer resigned to become the head coach at North Carolina State.
Butehorn put in place an excellent and very solid foundation of success during his tenure in Ft. Myers. As a result you can expect FGCU to continue to be a force in the future in both the ASUN and on the national scene.
North Carolina - Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina! The Tar Heels have had a lot to clebrate over the years. The 2016 season was no exception. North Carolina has earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament seventeen times in the last eighteen seasons, advanced to the Elite Eight seven times out of the last nine years, finished with a top ten ranking in eight of the last nine seasons, advanced to the College Cup on multiple occasions, and were the national champions in 2001 and 2009.
UNC had another stellar and notable season in 2016 with a 14-3-4 overall record and a 5-1-2 mark in ACC play to lead the highly competitive Coastal Division. They were awarded the number nine seed in the NCAA Tournament and subsequently topped FGCU, Syracuse and Providence to advance to the College Cup where they played eventual national champion Stanford to a scoreless tie before being topped ten to nine in a penalty kick shootout.
North Carolina was solid on both sides of the ball in 2016. The Tar Heel offense produced a total of thirty eight goals while the defense anchored by Colton Storm who was selected in the first round of the MLS draft, Walker Hume who was selected in the second round, sophomore Alex Comsia, and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper James Pyle limited opponents to a total of only ten goals.
UNC under the direction of head coach Carlos Somoano, who is the active leader in winning percentage among Division I head coaches, ended the 2016 season ranked as the number four team in the country in both the NSCAA and College Soccer News.
Butler - Who let the dogs out! The Bulldogs took their game to a higher level in 2016 sprinting right out of the gate to a 7-0-1 record before losing a heartbreaker in overtime in the 97th minute of play to Indiana on the road in Bloomington. Butler had an outstanding season during which they were 13-5-2 overall, won the Big East Tournament by topping Villanova and Creighton, earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, and secured the number fifteen seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Butler's season came to an earlier end that expected when they were topped 5 to 4 in a penalty kick shootout by SIUE in the NCAA Tournament after the contest was scoreless at the end of regulation and overtime. Regardless, the Bulldogs had a special season in 2016 during which they took a major step forward while making a statement in the Big East Conference as well as on the national scene.
Senior David Goldsmith (12g, 4a), who completed his tenure at Butler with forty-one career goals, had another impact season in 2016. Goldsmith was named to both the NSCAA and College Soccer News All-America Teams. Midfielder Lewis Suddick (11g, 4a), who was named to the College Soccer News All-Freshman Team, was among the new additions who was a difference maker and added additional big play ability to the Bulldog offense.
For their accomplishments, Bulldog head coach Paul Snape who was in his sixth year at the helm of the program and assistant coaches Adam Bruh, Jason Perry, and Fabian Knopfler were named the NSCAA Great Lakes Region Coaching Staff of the Year.
Providence - What a season! The Friars won their first ever regular season Big East title with a 7-2-0 mark in conference play. They faced adversity early on due to injuries but gained momentum in October putting together an eight game winning streak.
Providence was awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament making their third appearance in the five seasons to date that Craig Stewart has been at the helm of the program. They then topped Delaware in the first round, pulled off the upset of the year when they scored four second have goals to overcome a 4-1 deficit to defeat number one seed Maryland 5-4 in the second round, and advanced past Big East foe Creighton to secure a spot in the Elite Eight where they were topped 1-0 by North Carolina in overtime.
Providence completed a very productive 2016 season with a 15-7-0 overall record. The Friars were ranked as the number nine team in the nation in the final College Soccer News poll and the number ten team in the country in the season ending NSCAA poll.
Senior midfielder Julian Gressel was named the Big East Co-Offensive Player of the Year. He was a Hermann Trophy Semifinalist, an NSCAA and College Soccer News All-America Team selection, and was the number eight selection in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft becoming the highest Providence player to date ever selected in the draft.
St. Francis Brooklyn - Unified might be the best way to decribe the Terriers in 2016. St. Francis Brooklyn was 12-4-3 overall with a 6-0-1 in Northeast Conference play. The Terriers didn't allow a conference opponent to net a single goal in route to winning their first outright NEC regular season title since 1997. St. Francis then defeated Sacred Heart and Saint Francis University to earn their third NEC Tournament Championship in the past four seasons and to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the tenth time.
A very impressive season then came to an end when the Terriers were topped 1-0 in overtime by Dartmouth in the NCAA Tourney. Head coach Tom Giovatto accurately described the heart and culture of his 2016 team when he stated, "It's just about hard work and staying together; this is a really tight group."
Junior defender Collyns Laokandi was named the NEC Defensive Player of the Year and to the All-Northeast Region First Team. Senior forward Yussuf Olajiide who netted six goals including five game-winners and junior defender Dominick Falanga who had a team high six assists were All-Northeast Region Second Team selections.
Colgate - The 2016 Colgate team left a legacy upon which to build. The Raiders won their sixth Patriot League Championship in 2016 with a gutsy performance in the Patriot League tournament in which they advanced past Army, Loyola, and top-seeded American to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field for the sixth time. Colgate's season and their goal of winning a contest in the NCAA Tournament came to an end when they traveled to Los Angeles and were topped 4-2 by the UCLA Bruins in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to conclude the season with a 13-7-2 overall record.
The thirteen wins in 2016 tied the Raider's single season win record that was set in 1994. Colgate's ten victories in 2015 and thirteen victories in 2016 resulted in the first back-to-back ten win seasons since 1991-1992. The Raiders,led by a very determined senior class, displayed a solid work ethic, grit, and devotion to team throughout the season that made this a unique group whose imprint upon the program will no doubt set the pace and pay dividends for seasons to come.
At the conclusion of the season, Raider head coach Erik Ronning stated, "I am really proud of this group. They're a special group of young men who represent Colgate, their families, myself and this program in the brightest of lights. They were fantastic for the entire year." Ronning then added, "This is one of the best teams, if not the best team, that I've had the privilege to coach."
Senior forward Ethan Kutler, who found the back of the net a total of thirty-three times during his tenure at Colgate, was named to the NSCAA All-Northeast Region First Team, senior defender Zach Tamen who was the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year was an NSCAA All-Northeast Second Team and junior midfielder Jared Stroud was named to the Third Team.