CSN annually closes out the year with a tribute to those programs that had special seasons. The 2011 season was a shining season for the 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.
North Carolina – There were a lot of unanswered questions about the Tar Heels heading into the 2011 campaign. They were without Elmar Bolowich who had been the head coach at North Carolina for the past twenty-two years. Bolowich had guided the Tar Heels to the National Championship in 2001 and to the Final Four for the previous three seasons. Carolos Somoano who had been the top assistant coach under Bolowich for the past nine seasons took over the reigns of the program with several key holes to plug due to graduation. The consensus was that this was a team that was going to be very good but that the 2011 season would be a bit of a transition year.
All things considered, it seemed a long shot that the 2011 team would be able to keep North Carolina’s streak of consecutive trips to the coveted Final Four intact. A stellar recruiting class plugged the gaps and gelled from the get-go with the returning players including junior forward Billy Schuler who was back on the pitch for the Heels after missing the 2010 season due to injury. The rest is history. North Carolina won the ACC regular season and tournament titles, returned to the Final Four for the fourth consecutive season, and won the program’s second National Championship finishing with a 21-2-3 record. It was a great year to be a Tar Heel.
Charlotte – The 49ers finished regular season play with a 13-3-2 overall record and a 6-1-2 mark in Atlantic 10 Conference play. Charlotte looked to be a team that was well positioned to receive one of the top sixteen seeds in the NCAA Tournament but that did not happen when they were upset by Xavier 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The 49ers subsequently received an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament and were scheduled to host Furman in first round action with the winner slated to travel to Birmingham to take on UAB.
What the 49ers accomplished from that point forward had to be a surprise for even the most die hard Charlotte supporter and turned what would have been considered a good season into a great one. Charlotte topped Furman 3-1 at home, UAB 3-1 on the road, defending national champion Akron 1-0 at home and advanced past Connecticut on the road in penalty kicks after trailing 1-0 with eight minutes remaining in regulation to advance to the Final Four. The 49ers then advanced past number two seed Creighton in penalty kicks before falling to North Carolina 1-0 in the national championship match with a solid contingent of Charlotte fans on hand to witness a match that could easily have gone either way. The 49ers finished a banner season with a 16-5-4 overall record.
New Mexico – This was a talented, unified, and gutsy team that always seemed capable of reaching down deep to find a way to win. The magic started early in the season when the Lobo’s scored three goals in the final seven minutes of play to come from behind to top Cal State Northridge 3-1. The following weekend the Lobos made their presence known on the national scene when sophomore center back Kyle Venter found the back of the net in the 81st minute of play to tie defending national champion Akron 1-1 on the road. The Lobos continued to take care of business on the field of play and ended the regular season with a 16-0-2 mark that included a perfect 10-0-0 record in MPSF action. The 2011 men’s soccer team became the first team in school history since the 1927 Lobo football team to finish regular season play undefeated.
New Mexico then advanced past San Jose State and CSU Bakersfield to claim the MPSF Tournament title. The Lobos then defeated Duke in the NCAA Tournament before a crowd of 6,200 fans at the UNM Soccer Complex before their season came to an end in the Sweet Sixteen when they came out on the short end of a penalty kick shootout with South Florida in Tampa after the contest was tied 0-0 at the end of regulation and two overtime periods. The Lobo’s hopes of advancing to the Final Four and winning a national championship did not come to be but nonetheless that will not diminish the legacy of a team that was 18-0-4 overall and ranked as the number one team in the country for a significant portion of the 2011 season.
Fairfield – It is often stated that the success of any team is determined by how the team responds to adversity. Fairfield began the season with four consecutive losses which could have caused them to self destruct. Instead the Stags remained focused and continued to work hard and reeled off a thirteen game (12-0-1) unbeaten streak that included winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles. What has to be considered a banner season for a young Fairfield team came to an end when they lost a heartbreaker 3-2 to Brown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Junior goalkeeper Michael O’Keefe was named the MAAC Defender of the Year. Freshman forward Jordan Ayris (10g, 3a) was named the MAAC Rookie of the Year and College Soccer News All-Freshman selection, and coach Carl Rees was named the MAAC Coach of the Year. Fairfield ended the 2011 season with a 12-5-1 overall record and an 8-0-1 mark in conference play.
Creighton – What a season! When Elmar Bolowich accepted the head coaching job at Creighton he stated that he wanted to continue the fine reputation that the program already had and to take it to the next level. Bolowich inherited a talented team but it seemed likely that there would be some sort of transition period for a team that had had three different head coaches in three seasons. The transition was as seamless as they come and without any observable bumps in the road. The Bluejays hit the ground running and never looked back. Creighton won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles and were awarded the number two seed in the NCAA Tournament. They then advanced to the Final Four for fourth time in the history of the program. The Bluejays ended the year with an outstanding 21-2-1 overall record during which time they recorded a school record nineteen shutouts while holding opponents to total of only five goals.
Senior goalkeeper Brain Holt, senior forward Ethan Finlay (14g, 6a), and senior defender Andrew Duran were named First Team All-Americans by College Soccer News. Senior midfielder Greg Jordan was named a Second Team All-American by the NSCAA. Defender Eric Miller was named a Third Team All-Freshman selection by College Soccer News.
Florida Gulf Coast University – The 2011 campaign will be remembered as the first season in which the Eagles earned a berth into the NCAA Tournament. A significant accomplishment for a program that has just been in existence for five seasons. In fact the 2011 campaign was the first year in which FGCU was eligible for postseason play. The Eagles won the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season title and the conference tournament to claim the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles season subsequently came to an end when they were topped 1-0 by in-state rival UCF in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless this is a team that has forever raised the standard of excellence for future teams at FGCU. The Green and Blue finished the season with a 12-6-2 overall record that included a 7-1-0 mark in conference play.
Senior midfielders Josey Portillo (3g, 7a) and Cristian Raudales (7g. 1a) were named to the NSCAA All-South Region Team and head coach Bob Butehorn was named the A-Sun Conference Coach of the Year.
Marquette – The Golden Eagles didn’t earn a berth into the NCAA Tournament but there is no doubt that the 2011 squad had a special season that will be looked upon in the future as a major turning point and building block for the program. Marquette was 9-8-2 overall and secured the program’s first ever Big East Blue Division championship with a 7-2-0 mark in league play that included key wins over Notre Dame, West Virginia, and Providence. After beginning the 2011 season with a 1-4-1 mark the Golden Eagles rebounded to go unbeaten in ten out of their last fourteen matches.
Senior midfielder Calum Mallace was named the Big East Conference Midfielder of the Year and a College Soccer News Second Team All-American. Marquette head coach Louis Bennett along with associate head coach Stan Anderson, assistant coach Steve Bode and volunteer assistant Marcelo Santos were named the Big East Coaching Staff of the Year. The 2011 Marquette squad took a tangible and memorable step forward in putting in place a winning mindset that will continue to yield dividends for the program in years to come.
UCLA – Expectations are always high in Westwood as was the case heading into the 2011 campaign when the Bruins returned eleven starters from a young 2010 team that advanced to the Elite Eight. UCLA began the year with two losses and a tie but the Bruins got back on track and showed that they were indeed a team to be taken seriously when they topped UC Santa Barbara 3-2 a few games later with forward Chandler Hoffman contributing a hat trick. The Bruins were 10-0-0 in Pac-12 play going undefeated in league play for the first time since the 2003 season. They were awarded the number thirteen seed in the NCAA Tourney and topped Delaware, Rutgers, and Louisville to advance to the Final Four for the first time since the 2005 season. The Bruins fell to North Carolina in penalty kicks in the semifinals of the Final Four in arguably one of the most exciting Final Four matches in years.
Jorge Salcedo was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year and forward Chandler Hoffman (18g, 6a), midfielder Kelyn Rowe (6g, 10a) and goalkeeper Brian Rowe who posted twelve shutouts were All-America team selections. The Bruins finished the season with an impressive 18-4-2 record and a resume with accomplishments that ensure the 2011 team a special place in a very storied and successful UCLA history.
Delaware – Dare to be a Blue Hen took on a special meaning in 2011. The 2011 season was a year of firsts for Delaware. The Blue Hens secured their first ever CAA Championship and returned to the NCAA Tourney for the first time since the 1970 season. They topped Virginia 1-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to claim the program’s first ever NCAA victory. The Blue Hens finished the season with a 13-6-4 overall record which established a new school record for wins in a single season. Senior forward Evans Frimpong was named the CAA Player of the Year and became the first Blue Hen to earn All-America honors since the 1985 season.
The 2011 season is one that Delaware head coach Ian Hennessy and his players will always look back to with a real sense of pride and accomplishment. Daring to be a Blue Hen now realistically includes wining the conference title and making a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia State – The 2011 season was all about respect for Georgia State. Head coach Brett Surrency stated, “It was such a great year and a tremendous step forward for the program.” He added, “I am so proud of the guys and all the work they put into it and for raising the bar here at GSU.” The bar was raised when the Panthers earned their first CAA Tournament appearance and picked up their first conference tournament win when they topped William and Mary in the quarterfinals. The Panthers made their first ever appearance in the NCAA Tourney when they were awarded an at-large berth. They subsequently lost to Duke in a first round match 1-0 but represented themselves and the CAA very well. Georgia State finished the season with a 13-8-1 record to close out the year with their highest win total in twenty-five years.
It was a season that will be long remembered as the one in which the Panthers clearly made their presence known in the CAA and began the process of making their presence known on the national scene. With ten starters returning in 2012 there is reason for optimism as the Panthers seek to build on the success they enjoyed in 2011.
CSU Bakersfield – In just their second year as a Division I program the Roadrunners earned their first invite to the NCAA Tournament. CSU Bakersfield earned an at-large berth after finishing with a 7-3-0 mark in MPSF play and advancing to the championship match of the conference tournament where they played New Mexico to a 1-1 tie before the Lobos claimed the title via a penalty kick shootout. The Roadrunners subsequently fell to Saint Mary’s 1-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before a record crowd of 2,207 fans to finish the season with a 12-4-5 overall record. The lads from Bakersfield under the direction of Simon Tobin had a banner season establishing that they can hold their own with anyone and providing notice that will be heard from again.
Sophomore forward Gyasis Zardes (18g, 2a) was named the MPSF Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American. Zardes summed things up at the conclusion of the contest with Saint Mary’s when he stated, “We gave it our all, we gave it 100 percent and left everything on the field.” He then added, “We’re definitely going to build off this because we never want to feel this feeling of losing ever again.”
Saint Mary’s College – The Gaels defied expectations all year. To say that they had a magical season may be an understatement. For starters, Saint Mary’s was predicated to finish fifth in the seven team West Coast Conference preseason poll. They looked to be headed in that direction when they finished the month of September with a 1-3-4 overall record. However, this senior driven team showed plenty of resolve and heart. They never gave up! The Gaels steadily improved and came down to the last weekend of the season needing wins over Loyola Marymount and San Diego to claim their first ever West Coast Conference title. They came through in the clutch with a 1-0 victory over LMU and a 1-0 win over San Diego to claim the WCC title and the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tourney. Saint Mary’s then began an improbable up hill run that included wins on the road over CSU Bakersfield, UC Irvine, and Brown to advance to the Elite Eight where their season came to an end with a 2-0 loss to eventual national champion North Carolina. The Gaels were ranked by College Soccer News as the number twelve team in the country.
Head coach Adam Cooper stated, “I’m real proud of the boys for this entire season even early in the year when we struggled record wise, we started playing real well. The guys just kept plugging away and kept going and it was pretty special at the end”
The 2011 season forever raised the bar at Saint Mary’s and created memories that the coaches, the players, and the Gael Nation will always remember.
Rutgers – What a turnaround! After recording a total of only four wins in 2010 including one win in Big East Conference play, Rutgers was 10-7-4 overall in 2011 with a healthy 6-1-2 mark in conference play. The Scarlet Knights were awarded an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament and advanced past Colgate and Boston College before falling to UCLA in the Round of Sixteen. Rutgers was ranked as the number twenty-three team in the nation in the final NSCAA poll and as the number twenty team in the country in the season ending College Soccer News National poll.
Dan Donigan was named the NSCAA Northeast Region Coach of the Year and Dave Beck was named the NSCAA Northeast Region Assistant Coach of the Year. Freshman forward Juan Pablo Correa (6g, 5a) was named to the College Soccer News All-Freshman Team.
By a lot of measures, 2011 was a very special season for a program with a proud tradition.