CSN annually closes out the year with a tribute to those programs that had special seasons. The 2009 season was a shining season for the twelve 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.
Virginia – The Cavaliers were back on top of the college soccer mountain in 2009 winning the program’s first NCAA Championship since the 1994 season while sporting a 19-3-3 overall record. Virginia was the flagship team in college soccer in the early 90’s when they secured national titles in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. The program was hungry for another national title run and the 2009 team didn’t disappoint the Virginia faithful. The Cavaliers entered the 2009 campaign with a solid contingent of returning starters and a recruiting class led by Parade All-American forward Will Bates that was ranked by College Soccer News as the eighth best in the nation. Expectations were noticeably high in Charlottesville as the Cavaliers began the season. However questions about the ability of the Cavaliers to win the close games began to surface when they lost tough ACC contests at home to Duke and Clemson and then North Carolina on the road on October 2 to begin the season with a 6-3-0 record and a disappointing 1-3-0 mark in ACC play.
The loss to the Tar Heels was the last defeat that George Gelnovatch’s team would experience in 2009 as they were subsequently unbeaten in sixteen straight contests in route to winning the ACC Tourney Championship and the National Championship with NCAA Tourney wins over Bucknell, Portland, and Maryland followed by wins in the College Cup over Wake Forest 2-1 and Akron 3-2 in penalty kicks after the two teams finished regulation and overtime knotted 0-0. Gelnovatch and the Cavaliers displayed the heart of a champion in 2009. Virginia could easily have lost their confidence at several points during the 2009 campaign but that did not happen. This team was tenacious on the defensive side of the ball recording fifteen shutouts and opportunistic on the offensive side of the ball. Virginia has always been a top notch program but the drought in receipt of a national title had taken some of the luster away from the program. The 2009 team will be remembered for restoring that luster. Junior goalkeeper Diego Restrepo and sophomore midfielder Tony Tchani were named College Soccer News First Team All-Americans.
Akron – It was great to be an Akron Zip in 2009. Akron reeled off twenty-three consecutive victories equaling the NCAA single season record for consecutive wins in a single season. Caleb Porter’s squad advanced to the National Championship match where they came out on the short end of a penalty kick shootout to Virginia. Although they did not attain their goal of winning the national championship in 2009, Akron had a brilliant season and was the dominant team in college soccer.
The Zips were the consensus number one team for the majority of the 2009 season. Their attack, led by Hermann Trophy Award winner Teal Bunbury, netted a total of fifty-eight goals while a tenacious Akron defense recorded nineteen shutouts and allowed opponents to score a total of only seven goals. At the end of the national championship match Akron mentor Porter stated, “What I’ll remember more than anything this year is the way we played this game and how we approached going against the best teams in the country.” He added, “We didn’t hope to win, but expected to win. We didn’t hang on potential results, but dictated the game.” Porter’s comments sum up what was special about the 2009 team and the legacy that they leave for the teams that Akron will put on the pitch in the future.
Porter, who has an overall record of 68-12-8 during his four year tenure to date at Akron, was named the 2009 NSCAA National Coach of the Year.
Monmouth – What a season! The Hawks have been the dominant team in the NEC for several years but in 2009 they made their presence known from coast to coast with a 18-2-2 overall record that included winning the NEC regular season and tourney titles. Rob McCourt’s squad played their way into a top ten national ranking and were ranked as high as the number five team in the country at one point by the NSCAA.
Monmouth was ranked as the number ten team in the nation in the final College Soccer News national poll and as the number thirteen team in the country in the final NSCAA poll. The Hawks advanced past Connecticut in penalty kicks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before falling 3-0 to Harvard in second round action.
McCourt was named the NSCAA North Atlantic Regional Coach of the Year. Junior midfielder Ryan Kinne was a consensus All-American and was named the NEC Player of the Year, senior defender Daniel Bostock was named the NEC Defensive Player of the Year, and freshman forward Ryan Clark was named a College Soccer News All-Freshman Team selection. The 2009 version of the Blue and White will be remembered as the team that took the program to new heights on the national scene.
UNC Wilmington – The Seahawks soared to new heights in 2009 securing the program’s first ever NCAA Tourney berth while recording a 14-3-5 overall record with an 8-0-3 mark in Colonial Athletic Association play. They won their second consecutive CAA regular season title and their first ever CAA tournament championship. The lads from Wilmington advanced past in-state rival Charlotte in penalty kicks in the first round of the NCAA tourney before losing a closely contested match 2-1 to Wake Forest in the second round of play.
Seahawk head coach Aidan Heaney was named the NSCAA South Atlantic Region Coach of the Year and junior defender Indy Smith became the first player from UNC Wilmington to be named an All-American by the NSCAA. The Seahawks were ranked by College Soccer News as the number eighteen team in the country in their season ending poll. The 2009 UNC Wilmington team has forever raised the standard of excellence for the program. With nine starters slated to return in 2010 the Seahawks look to be very well equipped to build on the success they enjoyed in 2009.
Iona – The Gaels won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season championship for the first time in school history with a 7-1-0 mark in conference play. Iona ended the 2009 season with a healthy 14-2-3 overall record. The Gaels hopes of an NCAA Tourney appearance came to an unexpected end when they were upended by Niagara in the semifinals of the MAAC Tourney in a match that required penalty kicks to determine who advanced. Regardless, the 2009 season was clearly a banner year for Iona and one that head coach Fernando Barboto, who was named the 2009 MAAC Coach of the Year, and the Iona players will look back upon as a very special season of play that forever raised the standard of performance for the Gaels and that will likely prove to be a building block for continued success for the program in the future.
Saint Mary’s College – The Gaels entered the 2009 campaign ranked by the West Coast Conference Coaches as the number seven team in the seven team WCC in their preseason poll. One might question the wisdom of that ranking given the fact that Saint Mary’s returned eight starters from the 2008 team that finished fourth in the WCC with a 5-4-3 record.
So much for preseason rankings. The Gaels responded with a program best 2009 campaign in which they made a strong case in conference play as well as on the national scene for a little more respect for the program. Adam Cooper’s team was 10-5-5 overall with a solid 6-3-3 mark in WCC play in 2009 which was good for a second place finish. The Gaels took an historic step forward when they were awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tourney thus making their first ever appearance in the big dance. Saint Mary’s fell to Stanford in the first round of NCAA Tourney play but clearly the 2009 season will always be a season to remember for the Gaels. Cooper was named the WCC Coach of the Year and the West Region Coach of the Year by the NSCAA. Junior defender Jordan Grider was named the WCC Defensive Player of the Year.
Cooper summed it all up when he stated, “We had a great season and we’ve raised the expectations of our program.” He added, “This gave us a taste for the post season and a hunger to get their again.”
Wofford College – No team had more of a turnaround in 2009 than Wofford. Prior to this year the Terriers were pretty much thought of as an easy win in Southern Conference play. They finished in last place or were tied for last place in the eight member Southern Conference from 2003 through 2008. The 1994 season was the last one in which Wofford had a wining record. The contest with Wofford was a match on the schedule that opponents tended to view as a breather. That all went by the wayside in a big way in 2009.
In his second season at the helm of the program, Ralph Polson directed the Terriers to a 12-3-3 overall record which was the school’s best record in the history of the program in NCAA Division I play. Wofford won the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the history of the program. Polson was named the NSCAA South Region Coach of the Year and senior defender Nick Schuemann was named a Third Team All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of American becoming the first player in school history to earn All-America honors at the Division I level.
The 2009 team at Wofford clearly took the program to a higher level and will hold a unique spot in the history of the program for their many accomplishments.
North Carolina – The Tar Heels were highly regarded heading into the 2009 season due to the fact that they returned a solid core of players from the 2008 team that advanced to the College Cup. The 2009 Tar Heels had a season to remember not because they advanced to the College Cup for the second consecutive season but due to the fact that they overcame the early loss of several key players who were projected to be starters. The legacy of the 2009 squad is that they molded their individual talents into a unified team and made the adjustments they needed to make to win better than any UNC team in recent memory. North Carolina ended the 2009 season with a 16-2-4 overall record and a 5-2-1 mark in regular season ACC play.
Sacramento State – Any discussion of teams that had a special season in 2009 would be incomplete if the Hornets were not included. Sacramento State was a talented and determined bunch in 2009. The mettle of this team was never more apparent than in the MPSF Tournament Title match against a very competitive New Mexico team. The Hornets had plenty of opportunities to give up but they never did. They trailed three times in the match but kept coming back and eventually prevailed in a penalty kick shootout to claim the MPSF Title and the program’s first ever NCAA Tourney berth. After that contest head coach Michael Linenberger stated, “We came back three times in the match, and I think it really showed the character and resiliency of this team.” He added, “It’s our first conference championship and our first trip to the NCAA Tournament, so this is a huge step for our program.”
The Hornets then traveled to Los Angeles where they recorded another program milestone when they topped Loyola Marymount 2-1 in overtime to secure their first ever NCAA Tourney win. Sacramento State continued to give their all but their season came to an end when they fell to UCLA 2-1 in a very closely contested NCAA Tourney Second round match. The Hornets ended the 2009 season with a very solid 12-6-3 overall record. The twelve wins established a new school record for victories in a single season.
Linenberger was named the MPSF Coach of the Year and junior midfielder Ernesto Carranza (6g, 6a) was named the MPSF Player of the Year. Freshman forward Max Alverez (10g, 3a) had a sensational season and was named a College Soccer News All-Freshman Second Team selection.
Green Bay – Green Bay advanced to the championship match of the Horizon League Tournament for the third consecutive year in 2009. In 2007 and 2008 that is where their season came to an end but that was not to be the case in 2009. Green Bay topped Valparaiso 3-1, avenging a regular season loss, in the semifinals and then advanced past a very good Butler team in penalty kicks in the championship contest to earn the league’s automatic berth and return the program to the NCAA Tourney for the first time in twenty-six years.
Green Bay’s magical ride came to an end when they were topped 2-1 by Notre Dame in South Bend in the first round of the NCAA Tourney but by all measures the 2009 campaign was an extremely successful and noteworthy one for the lads from Green Bay. Head coach Tom Poitras said it well when he stated, “We need to be proud of what we accomplished this year, that’s something that will never be forgotten.”
Green Bay finished the season with an impressive 14-3-3 overall record. Junior midfielder JC Banks was named a Third Team All-American by College Soccer News and he was named the Horizon League Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. Banks, who finished the 2009 campaign ranked fifth in the nation in points per game, became the first player from Green Bay to be named the Horizon League Player of the Year. Junior David Prochazka, sophomore Tony Walls, and senior David Znaty were also First Team All-Horizon League selections.
Butler – Don’t let the fact that the Bulldogs finished the 2009 campaign with a penalty kick loss to Green Bay in the Horizon League Tourney Championship match followed by a 1-0 loss to Indiana in the NCAA Tourney detract from the remarkable season that they had.
Butler finished the year with a 14-3-2 overall record which was the third highest win total in school history and their best record since the 1998 campaign. Under the direction of fourth year head coach Kelly Findley, Butler captured the regular season Horizon League title, earned a number twelve seed in the NCAA Tourney, returned to the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 2001, and was ranked in most national polls for the majority of the season. The Bulldogs secured attention on the national scene and rocketed upward in the polls when they won eleven of their first thirteen matches including resume building on the road wins over South Carolina and Indiana.
Findley was named the Horizon League Coach of the Year, sophomore defender Matt Hedges was named the Horizon League Defender of the Year, freshman forward Julian Cardona (6g, 3a) was named the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year and was a College Soccer News All-Freshman Third Team selection.
Wake Forest – The Deacons returned to their fourth consecutive College Cup in 2009. It’s hard to say that this team took the program to a higher level because Wake Forest has been among the top teams in the country for the past four years. The legacy of the 2009 Demon Deacons squad is that they greatly exceed the expectations of many who did not think that the 2009 team could play their way into the College Cup since they had to replace eight extremely talented and experienced starters from the 2008 team. This team leaves a legacy that will be a source of confidence and inspiration for Wake Forest teams in the future.
The Deacons were picked as the fourth place team in the ACC in the coaches preseason poll. Instead they finished ACC play with a 5-2-1 mark and claimed their fifth ACC regular season title along with North Carolina. Jay Vidovich was named the ACC Coach of the Year, Corben Bone was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and Ike Opara was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Wake Forest finished the season with 17-4-3 overall record.