College Soccer News annually likes to acknowledge those programs that had special seasons. The 2014 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.
Virginia – National Champions! That says it all. No one had a more successful season in 2015 than the Cavaliers under the direction of George Gelnovatch. In fact, Virginia is the only school in the country to play on college soccer's biggest stage in both 2013 and 2014. The Cavaliers earned their thirty-fourth consecutive invite to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and earned the number sixteen seed. They began the tourney with a good win at home against a talented UNCW team but with a match-up on the road with number one seeded Notre Dame next on their dance card it seemed likely that their stay in the tourney would be a short one. However, a very talented, well disciplined and organized Cavalier squad defied the odds by upsetting the Irish and then number eight seeded Georgetown on the road to advance to the College Cup where they then topped UMBC and number two seeded UCLA to win the programs' seventh national championship and their second under the leadership of Gelnovatch.
UCLA – Success at UCLA is measured in large part by how far the Bruins advance in the NCAA Tournament. Consider 2014 as a highly successful season for the Bruins who made their thirty-second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, advanced to the College Cup for the fourteenth time and advanced to the National Final for the ninth time. UCLA was awarded the number two seed in the NCAA Tournament and topped San Diego, California, North Carolina, and Providence before falling in penalty kicks to the University of Virginia in the national championship match. Leo Stolz elected to return for his senior season instead of turning pro and became the third Bruin to be named the National Player of the Year. Sophomore midfielder Michael Amick joined Stolz as an NCAA and College Soccer News All-America selection. The future continues to look bright in Westwood as Abu Danladi, Seyi Adekoya, and Chase Gasper were named All-Freshman Team selections by College Soccer News.
Providence – The 2014 season was a year of firsts for the Friars. As a result the bar of excellence was forever raised at Providence. The Friars won the Big East Tournament for the first time in the history of the program. They were awarded the number eleven seed in the NCAA Tournament and thus received their first ever first round bye in the NCAA Tournament. The Friars topped Dartmouth, UC Irvine and Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament to advance to the College Cup for the first time. Their sixteen win season was a program record. Historical is perhaps the one word that best describes Providence's 2014 season. It was a great to be a Friar in 2014.
UMBC – The Retrievers followed up a banner 2013 season with what was without a doubt the best season in the history of the program in 2014. Under the direction of Pete Caringi the Retrievers won the America East Conference Championship in 2014 for the third consecutive season. They earned their fourth invite to the NCAA Tournament in the past five seasons and made an improbable run in the NCAA Tournament that included wins on the road against Wake Forest, Maryland, Louisville, and Creighton to advance to the College Cup for the first time in the history of the program. A senior driven UMBC squad finished the 2014 season with a 14-5-5 overall record. Oumar Ballo was named the America East Defensive Player of the Year and was a consensus All-America Team selection. Mamadou Kansaye was named the America East Midfielder of the Year and Kay Banjo was named the American East Striker of the Year. Caringi was named the National Coach of the Year by the NSCAA. The Retrievers established once again in 2014 that they can hold their own with anyone in the country.
Xavier – Really good things continue to happen at Xavier. In 2014 the Musketeers earned their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past five years. It was a without a doubt a season to remember that was capped off by the deepest run to date in the NCAA Tournament in the history of the program. The Musketeers topped Monmouth and number five seeded Indiana in Bloomington to advance to the Sweet Sixteen where their season came to a close after a 2-1 loss to Creighton in Omaha. Xavier established a new program high with a fifteen win season and set a program record with eleven shutouts. They finished the 2014 season ranked as the number eleven team in the country by College Soccer News and the number thirteen team in the nation in the NSCAA poll to take the program to new heights on the national scene. Head coach Andy Fleming and his staff were honored as the Co-Big East Coaching Staff of the Year and Eric Osswald was named the Big East Goalkeeper of the Year. Xavier's 2014 senior class of Matt Hill, Garrett Halfhill, Owen Steinwall, Will Walker and Eric Osswald finished their tenure at Xavier as the winningest class in the history of the program with a 51-23-13 record. This is a program with momentum.
Oakland – The Golden Grizzlies showed a ton of resilience and talent when after beginning the season with five consecutive losses they rebounded to win the program's first ever regular season title and the program's first ever Horizon League Championship to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. During regular season play the Golden Grizzlies recorded a 2-0 signature win over nationally ranked Michigan State. They secured a big win when they defeated Kentucky 2-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and gave number three seeded Michigan State everything they could handle in the second round before losing 1-0. Senior forward Joey Tinnon, junior midfielder Matt Dudley, and junior forward Shawn Claud Lawson were named All-Horizon First Team selections and goalkeeper Wes Mink was a College Soccer News All-Freshman Team selection. It was a winning season that should set the stage for even more success in the future. No one reflected the heart of a champion more than Oakland in 2014.
Syracuse – The trend line continues upward at Syracuse under the guidance of head coach Ian McIntyre and his staff but the 2014 team will always hold a special place and be remembered for its role in taking the program to a higher level. The Orange had a great season that included sixteen wins, the second most in the history of the program. Syracuse earned the number nine seed in the NCAA Tournament to secure the program's first ever seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Orange had a high national ranking for a large part of the season and was ranked as the number one team in the nation for two weeks in the NSCAA poll for the first time in the history of the program. Syracuse finished the 2014 season as the number ten team in the country in both the NSCAA and College Soccer News National polls. McIntyre was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year. Goalkeeper Alex Bono, who anchored a Syracuse defense that allowed a total of only twelve goals all season, was a consensus First Team All-American and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The 2014 season was another giant step forward for a program that already has a ton of momentum. The Orange are for real.
UNCW – What a season. Few teams in the country exceeded expectations in 2014 more than the Seahawks. The Seahawks displayed a lot of grit in 2014 and established that they could hold their own with anyone as reflected in the fact that they were 7-1-1 on the road and were 4-2 against nationally ranked opponents. UNCW also had a huge 4-3 signature win at home over North Carolina before a record crowd of 2,213 fans. Under the direction of Aidan Heaney the Seahawks secured a share of the CAA regular season title and earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. UNCW hosted their first ever NCAA Tournament game in which they topped Bucknell 2-0 before a crowd of over 2,000 Seahawk faithful to advance to the second round for just the second time in the history of the program. Heaney was named the CAA Coach of the Year and senior Jacob VanCompernolle was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year. Senior midfielder Jamie Dell had a banner season in which he was named an All-American by the NSCAA and College Soccer News. The Seahawks truly soared in 2014.
UNLV – It was a breakthrough season for the Rebels who had a fifteen win season. Under the direction of head coach Rich Ryerson UNLV won both the WAC regular season and tournament championship to secure their first conference championship since the 1987 season and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1988. Ryerson was named the WAC Coach of the Year. Senior Salvador Bernal became the first player in UNLV history to be named First Team All-Conference for four seasons. He was named the WAC Offensive Player of the Year and was named an All-American by NSCAA and College Soccer News to become the first UNLV player to be named an All-American in twenty-four years. Senior Kyle Melies was named the WAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Clemson – Good things have been happening at Clemson for several years but the 2014 season will be remembered as the season in which Clemson fully turned the corner and returned to prominence on the national scene. The Tigers advanced past Wake Forest and Notre Dame in penalty kicks and topped Louisville 2-1 in overtime to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament for the first time since the 2001 season. They were awarded the number seven in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The Tigers finished a very productive 2014 season ranked by the NSCAA as the number eleven team in the nation and ranked by College Soccer News as the number twelve team in the country. The Tigers roared in 2014.
Oregon State – The Beavers had what is arguably the best ever season in the history of the program in 2014. They returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 2003 season and broke a barrier when they topped Denver 1-0 to secure the program's first ever win in post season play. The Beavers had signature regular season wins over California and Washington. Khiry Shelton netted ten goals and contributed twelve assists in route to being named the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Shelton was named a First Team All-American by College Soccer News and was a Second Team All-America selection by the NSCAA. Timmy Mueller who scored eleven goals and added two helpers was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
Cal State Fullerton – For all intents and purposes the 2014 season was supposed to be a transition season for the Titans who were under new management and were picked to finish last in the South Division in the 2014 Big West Conference preseason poll. However that didn't turn out to be the case as George Kuntz, who had been the head coach at UC Irvine for nineteen seasons, assumed the leadership of the Cal State Fullerton program and directed the Titans to a 10-8-6 overall record, the program's first winning season since 2001, and their first ever Big West Conference Tournament championship via a tenacious run that included wins on the road over UC Davis, UC Riverside, and UC Irvine to earn the programs first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2000. This is a team that may have improved as much from beginning to end as any team in the country and showed a will to win that bodes well for continued success in the future. After beginning the season with three straight losses the Titans rebounded to upset highly regarded UMBC to get back on track. Likewise after losing their first two conference matches they rebounded to secure wins over UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly. The 2014 campaign will be remembered as the season that rekindled a winning mindset at Cal State Fullerton.
Rhode Island – The Rams lost a heartbreaker to Fordham in the 2014 Atlantic 10 Championship and didn't get an invite to the NCAA Tournament but that takes nothing away from the fact that they had an outstanding turnaround season that clearly will be a springboard for the future. Rhode Island was 2-14-0 overall in 2013 with an 0-8-0 mark in conference play. They entered the 2014 campaign picked to finish in the number twelve spot in the thirteen team Atlantic 10. Instead they won the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a 7-1-0 mark in conference play and ended the season with a 13-5-3 overall record. Second year head coach Gareth Elliott was named the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year following in the footsteps of Ed Bradley who won the award in 1995 and 2001. Freshman goalkeeper Nils Leifhelm was honored as the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and was named a First Team All-Freshman Team selection by College Soccer News. Senior midfielder Matt Sykes (7g, 6a) was also an All-Atlantic 10 First Team selection. The Rams also returned to the national rankings and posted their first double-digit win total since the 2006 season.
Stanford – Stanford's season came to an unexpected end in the NCAA Tournament when they were upset 1-0 in overtime at home for the first time in the 2014 season by an opportunistic UC Irvine team. Regardless of the earlier than expected exit, things are clearly looking bright at The Farm and the 2014 season was another resounding step forward. In his first year at the helm of the program in 2013 Jeremy Gunn directed the Cardinal to a ten win season and returned the program to the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 2002 and they advanced to the Round of Sixteen. The trend line continued upward in 2014 with a 13-3-3 overall record which is the most wins since the 2002 campaign. Stanford also won the program's first Pac-12 championship since the 2001 season. The Cardinal received the number six seed in the NCAA Tournament and was ranked as high as number one by both the NSCAA and College Soccer News National Polls. Gunn was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year and the Far West Region Coach of the Year by the NSCAA. Sophomore Jordan Morris was named an NSCAA and College Soccer News All-American. Junior defender Brandon Vincent was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and an NSCAA All-American.
Mercer – Count Mercer among the schools that had a special season in 2014. The Bears had a stellar fourteen win campaign with an 8-2-0 mark in their first season as a member of the Southern Conference. The fourteen wins set a new program record for most wins in a single season. The Bears also won the regular season Southern Conference title. Brad Ruzzo was named the Southern Conference Coach of the Year and senior Greg Ranjitsingi was named the Southern Conference Goalkeeper of the Year while forward Will Bagrou was named the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year and was a College Soccer News All-Freshman selection.