Gaucho Power. UC Santa Barbara did not nail down a berth in the NCAA Tourney until the last day of regular season play when their 4-0 win over UC Riverside combined with Cal State Northridege’s 1-0 win over UC Irvine gave the Gauchos the edge they needed to claim the Big West Conference title and the league’s automatic invite to the big dance. After the UC Santa Barbara began the season with a less than impressive 7-6-0 record, even the most die hard Gaucho fan would have been hard pressed to predict what was about to unfold. UC Santa Barbara won eleven out of their last twelve matches including six wins in NCAA Tourney play to claim the 2006 National Title.
When the season began it was clear that the Gauchos would field a competitive team with a midfield lead by Eric Avila, Tyler Rosenlund, and Bryan Byrne and a backline anchored by defenders Andy Iro and Jeff Murphy and senior netminder Kyle Reynish. However, there were a lot of questions regarding who was going to provide the offensive spark this team needed to compete at the highest level. After a 5-0 thumping at the hands of rival CS Northridge and a 3-1 loss at home to UCLA, there also were questions regarding whether or not this group of Gauchos had the heart required to pull together as a team in the manner that has become a trademark of teams at UC Santa Barbara under the leadership of Tim Vom Steeg. Regarding the attack – freshman Bongomin Otii stepped up in the early going to provide an unexpected source of offensive firepower for UCSB and then Eric Avila, Nick Perera, Bryan Byrne and Tyler Rosenlund took charge down the home stretch. Regarding team chemistry – credit Kyle Reynish, Jeff Murphy, Eric Frimpong, and Bryan Byrne, with providing the senior leadership that proved to be the glue that held this team together and clearly established that this team had the heart of a champion.
A Big Year For The Atlantic Coast Conference – The ACC had a stellar year in 2006 with a combined 81-14-1 (.849) record against non-conference opponents. Seven out of the nine teams in the conference earned invites to the NCAA Tourney. Five of the top ten seeds were awarded to members of the ACC and two of the final four teams were from the ACC. In addition, four of the top ten teams in attendance in 2006 were ACC schools.
All Things Must Come To An End – Streak Stoppers – St. John’s streak of ten consecutive NCAA Tourney Sweet Sixteen appearances came to an end in 2006. Maryland’s streak of four straight Final Four appearances came to an end in 2006. UCLA’s streak of four consecutive Pac-10 Championships was halted in 2006. Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s string of four consecutive Horizon League Tournament Championships and five consecutive NCAA Tourney berths came to a halt in 2006.
This Dog Can Turn On You – After going 0-5-2 in their first seven matches of the season Gardner-Webb rebounded to end the 2006 season with a 9-8-4 overall record that included the school’s first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament where the Bulldogs defeated UAB in first round play before losing to Clemson.
No Ordinary Joe – No player had a greater season in 2006 or made a greater impact on his team than Notre Dame junior forward Joseph Lapira. The Irish striker tallied twenty-two goals and contributed six assists in route to being named the 2006 Hermann Trophy winner. Lapira had seven multiple-goal games including a stretch of five consecutive two-goal matches. Lapira, who was the first player ever to be named the National Player of the Week twice in a single season by College Soccer News, had eleven game winners. He produced the game-winner in Notre Dame’s NCAA Tourney wins over UIC and Maryland helping the Irish advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in the history of the program.
Solid Team Defense – UIC allowed just eight goals in twenty-one matches for a goals against average of 0.36. The Flames posted a school-record thirteen shutouts and never allowed more than a single goal in a match. The trend line is up at UIC under the direction of second year head coach John Trask. UIC was 10-5-2 overall in Trask’s first year at the helm of the program in 2005. The Flames were 13-3-5 in 2006 earning the Horizon League regular season title and an at-large berth in the NCAA Tourney for the first time in six years.
A Balanced Attack – The Mustangs from SMU found the back of the net fifty-seven times in 2006. Sixteen different SMU players put the rock in the onion sack while five Mustangs tallied five or more goals. SMU averaged 2.48 goals per match in route to a 17-2-4 overall record. Senior Chase Wileman (8g, 13a) lead the SMU attack.
A Tough Mountain To Climb – The coaching story of the year has to be what Marlon LeBlanc accomplished at West Virginia. The good news was that LeBlanc took over the reigns of a West Virginia program that returned nine of eleven starters. The bad news was that he was not named the head coach until the first day of preseason camp. This team could easily have self-destructed but they did not. Instead, LeBlanc hit the ground running and lead the Mountaineers to a 15-3-3 overall record that included a 9-0-1 mark and regular season championship in Big East play. West Virginia was ranked as the number ten team in the country in CSN’s Season Ending poll.
An Historic Season – How Sweet It Is
Wake Forest – The tradition rich Wake Forest program took things to an even higher level in 2006 with a school-record eighteen wins in route to advancing to their first-ever Final Four. Demon Deacon netminder Brian Edwards anchored a defense that recorded thirteen shutouts.
Harvard – The Crimson was 6-8-2 in 2005 with a 2-4-1 record in Ivy League play. Harvard dropped their Ivy League opener 3-1 to Penn but ran the table from that point forward to finish with a 6-1-0 mark in league play to capture their 12th Ivy League Championship and first since the 1996 season. The Crimson defeated Binghamton in the first round of the NCAA Tourney before losing to UCLA in the second round to finish the season with a very impressive 14-5-0 overall record. Charles Altchek was named the Ivy League Player of the Year and Andre Akpan was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Midfielder Michael Fucito (9g, 9a) also had an outstanding season.
Loyola University Chicago – After the Horizon League coaches picked the Ramblers to finish in the number seven spot in the league in their preseason poll, the Ramblers surprised everyone by winning the Horizon League Tourney and capturing their first ever NCAA Tourney berth. The Ramblers were 11-8-2 overall behind a stellar defense that produced ten shutouts.
Lehigh – The Mountain Hawks concluded the 2006 season with a 15-2-3 record, recording the most wins in the history of the program. Lehigh was 7-0-0 in regular season Patriot League action and became the first team to go undefeated in Patriot League play without a tie. Lehigh head coach Dean Koski stated, “The biggest development of this team was their understanding of the greater strength they have in playing for the man next to you rather than yourself.” Lehigh earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tourney and a #16 seed. The Mountain Hawks advanced to the Round of 16 before losing to Duke.
Northern Illinois – The Huskies were 15-6-1 earning the most wins in program history. The Huskies won the MAC regular season title, the MAC Tourney championship, and earned their first NCAA Tourney appearance since 1973. NIU defeated Loyola University Chicago in the first round of the NCAA Tourney before losing 1-0 to Indiana in the second round.
Towson – The Tigers were picked to finish 7th in the CAA Preseason Coaches poll. Instead they won the CAA regular season title with a 10-0-1 mark, setting a CAA record for conference wins in a season. Towson finished the 2006 campaign with an impressive 15-2-3 overall record and were awarded the #15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers had a 14 game unbeaten streak before losing to Wake Forest in the Round of 16.
West Virginia – The Mountaineers were selected fifth in the eight-team Big East Blue Division preseason coaches poll. West Virginia surprised everyone by posting a 15-3-3 overall record and securing their first-ever Big East regular season championship.
Less Than Expected – Not So Sweet
Penn State – Expectations were high going into the 2006 season as the Nittany Lions returned nine starters from the 2005 team that went undefeated and untied in Big Ten play and won the league tourney. The Nittany Lions lost four out of their first five matches and never seemed to recover ending the 2006 season with a 7-11-2 overall mark and a 3-3-0 record in Big Ten play.
Connecticut – The Huskies returned a ton of talent supplemented by a top notch group of recruits. A season opening 1-0 home loss to Loyola Marymount followed soon thereafter by a 5-1 thumping at the hands of Saint Louis signaled that this might not be Connecticut’s year. Nonetheless, they played well enough to earn the program’s ninth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tourney but did not make the impact on the national scene that many felt this team was capable of making. A first round loss in the big dance to Fairfield at home was not the ending that head coach Ray Reid had in mind for the Huskies in 2006.
South Florida – With ten starters back from the 2005 team that had recorded an impressive 9-2-0 mark in their inaugural season in the Big East, the Bulls were expected to challenge for the Big East title and a high national ranking in 2006. Neither happened. An early season loss at home to Fordham was the first indication that the 2006 campaign might not be a banner year for the Bulls. South Florida was a competitive side but their 9-6-4 overall record and 4-3-4 mark in Big East play fell way short of preseason expectations.
North Carolina – With ten starters returning and another marquee class of recruits on board in Chapel Hill, the 2006 season looked very promising for the Tar Heels. The Heels did earn their eighth consecutive berth into the NCAA Tourney and somehow were awarded a number 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Tar Heels did not play to their potential winning only one match in their last eight contests going 1-4-3 down the home stretch to finish the season with an 11-6-3 overall record and a 3-4-1 mark in ACC play. The Heels were also one and out in NCAA Tourney play.
Goal Of The Year – It happened on August 25 during the first weekend of play in the 2006 season when senior midfielder Steven Gahl scored from forty yards out with only three seconds remaining in the second overtime period to give Boston University a 2 to 1 win over cross-town rival Boston College
Youngest Team Of The 2006 Season – Cleveland State head coach Ali Kazemaini started eleven freshmen in one match and started eight freshmen on eight different occasions during the 2006 season. At least seven freshmen started for Cleveland State in every match during the 2006 campaign. The Vikings ended the 2006 season with a 6-10-2 overall record during which time they scored 25 goals and allowed opponents to put 31 in the back of the net. A significant improvement over the 2005 season in which Cleveland State was 0-17-1 overall and scored a total of 17 goals while allowing opponents to put the ball in the onion sack a total of 65 times.
Impact Recruiting Class – The 2006 UCLA Bruin recruiting class was heralded as the number one recruiting class in the country. The Bruin newcomers lived up to preseason expectations with several members playing key roles in UCLA’s 14-6-4 overall record and run to the National Championship match. Sophomore transfer midfielder Tony Beltran (0g, 1a) and freshmen forwards David Estrada (12g, 4a), midfielders Kyle Nakazawa (4g, 8a) and Michael Stephens (2g, 3a), and defender Chance Meyers (1g, 4a) were all on the pitch in UCLA’s national championship match against UC Santa Barbara. Other freshmen who saw action during the year include midfielders James Jaramillo (1g, 0a) and Andrew Sinderhoff (1g, 0a), goalkeeper Brain Perk, and defenders Danny Suits, Patrick Rickards and Ryan White.
A Season To Build On – Evansville was 9-8-0 overall in 2006 with a 2-4-0 mark in MVC play under first year head coach Mike Jacobs. The Purple Aces had seven more wins in 2006 than in 2005 when they were 2-14-1 overall and 0-7-0 in MVC action. Jacobs stated, “This was an exciting season for us in terms of helping create a foundation for future Aces teams.”
Mid-Continent Championship Dynasty – The Leathernecks from Western Illinois won their third consecutive Mid-Con Tournament championship in 2006 and made their third straight appearance in the NCAA Tourney. Dr. Eric Johnson’s squad was 15-8-0 overall which tied the school’s record for wins in a single season. The Leathernecks were 5-1-0 in Mid-Con play capturing their first out right regular season title since the 1995 season.
It Was A Good Year For The Colonial Athletic Association – For the first time ever four teams from the CAA received invites to the NCAA Tournament. Hofstra earned an automatic berth by virtue of winning the CAA Tournament. Towson, Old Dominion, and George Mason all received at-large berths. Hofstra defeated Providence in the first round before losing to Wake Forest in the second round. Towson defeated Fairfield before losing to Wake Forest in the Sweet Sixteen. Old Dominion defeated Winthrop in the first round and North Carolina in the second round before losing to UC Santa Barbara in the Sweet Sixteen. George Mason lost to Bucknell in the first round. The CAA was 4-4 overall in NCAA Tourney action.
Big Ten Representation Down – In 2004 the Big Ten lead the country in NCAA Tourney berths with six (Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Indiana, and Penn State). In 2005 the Big Ten received three invites (Indiana, Penn State, and Ohio State). In 2006 only two Big Ten teams were awarded berths in the NCAA Tourney (Indiana and Northwestern).
Key Matches In 2006
Fairfield 2 – Connecticut 1 – The Stags captured their first ever NCAA Tournament win in style traveling to Storrs to upset the Huskies on their home turf. Christian Uy and Jimmy Gaughan found the back of the net for Fairfield while Mike Troy, Tom Skara, Tom Clements and netminder Jon Paul Francini anchored a solid Stag defense.
UC Santa Barbara 3 – SMU 1 – The Gauchos shocked number three seeded SMU in Dallas in the second round of the NCAA Tourney in a match that opened the door for the Gauchos to make their National Championship run.
UCLA 3 – Duke 2 – The Bruins traveled cross country and rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to upset the number one seeded Blue Devils in overtime to advance to the College Cup.
Notre Dame 1 – Maryland 0 – Joe Lapira found the back of the net with three minutes remaining in the second overtime period to give the Irish the win over the Terps at Ludwig Field in College Park. The Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in the history of the program.
Northwestern 1 – Saint Louis 0 – Inclement weather in St. Louis required the teams to wait an extra day to play this second round NCAA Tourney match. Saint Louis seemed to have everything in their favor and pressed the attack from the get-go. However, a determined Northwestern side halted the Billiken offense and David Roth’s strike from 30 yards out in the 20th minute of play gave the Wildcats the margin they needed to survive and advance to play another day.