CSN annually closes out the year with a tribute to those programs that had special seasons. The 2008 season was a shining season for the ten schools identified. It may be that they greatly exceeded expectations, or won more games than ever before, or accomplished something that will be a springboard for future seasons, or put together an improbable run. Regardless of the reason, it was a season that will be remembered, that will always bring a sense of pride and accomplishment to those involved, and that will have a positive impact on the program for years to come.
Maryland – The Terps entered the season with a ton of talent supplemented by a recruiting class ranked by College Soccer News as the best in the country but they looked like boys playing with men when defeated 4-2 by Wake Forest before a capacity crowd in the friendly confines of Ludwig Field on September 26 and their attack seemed to lack punch on September 30 in a 1-0 win over visiting Binghamton. Maryland then traveled to Clemson on October 3 and looked to be in control when Jeremy Hall converted a penalty kick in the 75th minute to give the Terps a 3-2 advantage but Clemson came roaring back to net three goals in a ninety second span to upset Maryland 5-3 in a match that in retrospect may have been the tipping point for the Terp season. From that point forward the Terps never looked back as they played with a higher level of intensity particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Tough early October home wins over Charlotte 2-1 in overtime and Lehigh 2-1 in overtime were also pivotal as the Terps came up with the big plays needed to secure the win in matches that easily could have gone the other way. Both of those contests featured game-wining goals from freshman Casey Townsend off assists from Hall. Maryland captured the ACC Tourney with 1-0 wins over North Carolina, Boston College and Virginia and then had a brilliant run in the NCAA Tourney with wins over George Mason, California, Creighton, St. John’s and North Carolina to capture the 2008 National Championship. Senior Graham Zusi was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2008 College Cup after providing the game-winning goals in Maryland’s wins over St. John’s and North Carolina. The Terps ended the season with a 23-3-0 mark that set a new school record for wins and a new school record for shutouts with fifteen clean sheets. Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski stated, “Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be the last team standing.” Mission accomplished.
Wake Forest – The Demon Deacons season came to an unexpected end when they were upset 1-0 by North Carolina 1-0 in the semifinals of the NCAA Tourney. Although Wake Forest’s dream of winning a second consecutive National Championship did not materialize, that does not take away from the fact that the Deacons had a tremendous season in 2008. The Deacs were the consensus number one team in the country heading into the 2008 campaign and they maintained the number one ranking throughout the entire regular season. Dominant is the word most often used to describe Wake Forest in 2008. The Deacons netted a total of eighty one goals while allowing opponents to put a total of only seventeen in the back of the net. Jay Vidovich directed the Deacons to their third consecutive College Cup and was named the NSCAA Men’s Division I National Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season. Senior forward Marcus Tracy was named the winner of the 2008 Herman Trophy which is considered the top individual honor in college soccer. College Soccer News named Tracy, Ike Opara, and Sam Cronin as First Team All-America selections while naming Cody Arnoux and Corben Bone as Second Team All-Americans. Perhaps the biggest legacy of the 2008 team is the fact that the eight member senior class consisting of Lyle Adams, Cline Beam, Evan Brown, Will Clayton, Sam Cronin , Jamie Franks, Michael Lahoud and Marcus Tracy concluded their tenure in Winston-Salem as the winningest class in Wake Forest history with an impressive 74-15-9 record that included the 2007 National Championship.
Michigan State – Joe Baum’s thirty-second and final season as the head coach of the Spartans was clearly a memorable one. Michigan State won the Big Ten Regular season title for the first time in program history and then defeated Northwestern and Indiana to secure the Big Ten Tournament Title. The Spartans were awarded the number four overall seed in the NCAA Tourney and finished the 2008 campaign with a 13-5-2 overall record and a 5-1-0 mark in Big Ten play. Senior forward Doug DeMartin had a stellar season during which he scored a total of seventeen goals. He was named a Second Team All-American by College Soccer News and the Big Ten honored him as the Conference Player of the Year. Baum, who was 320-228-54 during his tenure in East Lansing, was named the 2008 Coach of the Year by Soccer America and the Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year by the NSCAA. Senior midfielder Zac Scaffidi, senior defender Dave Hertel, and sophomore goalkeeper Avery Steinlage joined DeMartin as First Team All-Big Ten selections. The Spartan’s hopes of making a run in NCAA Tourney play were cut short when Illinois Chicago advanced past them in penalty kicks in second round action. However, all things considered – the 2008 season was clearly a magical one for Michigan State.
St. John’s – The Red Storm came roaring back in 2008 with a 19-3-3 overall record and a trip to the Final Four as a result of NCAA Tourney wins over Boston University, UC Irvine, and Indiana. St. John’s season then came to an end when they lost to Maryland 1-0 in double overtime in the NCAA College Cup Semifinals. By all measures, Dave Masur’s team was outstanding on both sides of the ball in 2008 netting a total of thirty-nine goals while holding opponents to only thirteen. College Soccer News ranked the Red Storm as the number three team in the country in their final season ending poll and the NSCAA listed St. John’s as the number four team in the nation in their season ending poll. Senior netminder Neal Kitson put together an impressive season between the pipes that included a school record fifteen shutouts and a 0.48 goals against average. Junior defender Joel Gustafsson was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year while junior Nelson Becerra was named the Big East Midfielder of the Year.
UC Irvine – The Anteaters’ performance during the 2008 season forever raised the standard of excellence at UC Irvine. Coach George Kuntz’s squad was 15-2-6 in 2008 as compared to 6-9-5 in 2007. The fifteen wins in 2008 set a new school record for wins in a single season. The Anteaters won the 2008 Big West Conference regular season title with a 5-1-4 record in league play. They topped that by wining the inaugural Big West Conference Tourney with a 1-0 win over UC Davis and a 4-2 win over perennial Big West powerhouse UC Santa Barbara to secure the program’s first ever invite to the NCAA Tournament. The Anteaters then defeated Cal Poly 3-0 in second round action in the NCAA Tourney before losing a closely contested match 3-2 to St. John’s in the Round of Sixteen. Senior Matt Murphy, who was a 2008 College Soccer News Third Team All-America Team selection, concluded a very successful tenure at UC Irvine as the program’s all time career point producer with eighty-five career points. Senior David Sias was named the Big West Defensive Player of the Year and freshman goalkeeper Andrew Fontein was honored as the Big West Co-Freshman of the Year. Junior midfielder Irving Garcia, whose play had a huge impact on the success the Anteaters enjoyed in 2008, was named to Soccer America’s MVP Second Team. UC Irvine head coach George Kuntz was named the NSCAA Far West Region Coach of the Year. The 2008 season was clearly one that Kuntz, his coaching staff, and the Anteater players will always look back upon with a great deal of pride.
Dayton – It was great to be a Dayton Flyer in 2008. Dennis Currier’s squad had a 15-4-3 overall record which set a new program record for wins in a single season. The 2008 campaign will be remembered as the first season in which the Flyers earned a berth in the NCAA Tourney. A high flying Dayton attack led by junior Alex Torda (10g, 3a) and senior Florian DeCamps (9g, 5a) netted a total of forty-six goals (an average of 2.09 goals per game) while a tough Dayton defense limited opponents to a total of twenty-three goals while recording eight shutouts. The Flyers showed their mettle when they won three games in four days defeating Rhode Island, Temple, and Massachusetts in the Atlantic 10 Tournament to win the Atlantic 10 Championship. Dayton was ranked by College Soccer News as the number nineteen team in the nation in their 2008 final season ending poll. College Soccer News also named Dayton freshman defender Jack Pearson as a Third Team All-Freshman selection.
North Carolina – No team made more of a turnaround in 2008 than North Carolina. A brilliant season ending run that ended in a close 1-0 loss to Maryland in the 2008 National Championship game turned what otherwise might have been an average season for the Tar Heels into one that embodied the essence of determination and resolve. North Carolina entered the 2008 season seeking to get back on track after a 2007 season in which they were 7-8-5 and were absent from the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1998 season. The Heels, supplemented by a recruiting class ranked as the number four class in the nation by College Soccer News, got out to a fast start going 11-2-1 in their first fourteen matches before losing five straight contests heading into the NCAA Tourney. The “never say never” Heels then rebounded showing a determined resolve as a team in a big way defeating an upstart Jacksonville team, a tough UIC squad, and a very talented Northwestern side to advance to the College Cup in Frisco, Texas for the first time since the 2001 season. Coach Elmar Bolowich’s team then faced the daunting task of squaring off with number one ranked Wake Forest in the national semifinal match of the NCAA Tourney. The Heels didn’t flinch as they upset the Demon Deacons 1-0 behind senior forward Brian Shriver’s goal in the fourth minute of the match to advance to face Maryland for the national championship. Although North Carolina lost to Maryland in the National Championship match – it was still great to be a Tar Heel in 2008.
Drake – The Bulldogs took an historic step forward in 2008 earning the programs first ever NCAA Tourney invite when they earned an at-large invitation to the big dance. Drake under the direction of coach Sean Holmes got off to the best start in school history garnering attention and respect on the national scene when they won their first six contests by shutout. The Bulldogs solid season of play continued throughout 2008 as they completed the year with an impressive 13-5-1 overall record that will forever raise the standard of excellence at Drake. The thirteen wins was a school record for a single season topping the previous high of eleven wins set by the 1987 team. The Bulldogs faced Saint Louis in the first round of the NCAA Tourney with high hopes of making a sustained run but lost a heartbreaker when the Billikens scored with 4 seconds remaining in overtime to win 1-0. College Soccer News ranked Drake as the number twenty-three team in their final season ending poll. Senior Ryan Moylan, juniors Garrett Webb, Julien Edwards, and Kevin Shrout, and sophomore Matt Kuhn were all First Team MVC selections.
Akron – An overall record of 17-2-4 that included a perfect 6-0-0 mark in Mid-American Conference play pretty much speaks for itself. Add to that the fact that Akron won their second consecutive MAC regular season and tournament titles in 2008 and received a school-best fifth seed in the NCAA Tournament and you get the picture. Akron’s seventeen wins was the second highest total in program history as was the fourteen shutouts that they recorded. The Zips did not advance as far in NCAA Tourney play as many thought they might but that does not take away from the fact that there were a lot of very special things to celebrate at Akron in 2008. Akron's defense, which was anchored by senior goalkeeper Evan Bush, concluded the 2008 campaign with a school record 0.45 goal-against-average. Bush ended his four year tenure at Akron as the MAC’s all time leader in shutouts with forty-eight career clean sheets. Sophomore forward Steve Zakuani had a banner season that included twenty goals and seven assists. Zakuani was the runner-up for the 2008 Hermann Trophy and was the top pick in the 2009 MLS Draft. Akron was ranked as the number nine team in the country in College Soccer News’ final season ending poll. The 2008 season was clearly a season to remember at Akron.
Denver – The 2008 season was a notable for coach Bobby Muuss and his players in several different ways. The Pioneers won their first ever MPSF Championship and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1970. Denver finished the season with a 10-7-2 overall record that included an impressive 8-1-1 mark in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play. Senior forward Kyle Christensen was named the 2008 Mountain Pacific Federation Player of the Year while forward Sam Garza was named the MPSF Newcomer of the Year and a College Soccer News Third Team All-Freshman Selection. The foundation that the 2008 team put in place should pay dividends for Denver in years to come.