College Soccer News annually likes to acknowledge those programs that had special seasons. The 2015 season was a shinning 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.
Any really successful coach will quickly tell you that the level of success they enjoy is dependent upon having talented, dedicated, and focused players. You can be the greatest coach in the world but without talented players you are not going to go very far. However,in the process of making any meaningful analysis of the 2015 season, one fact jumps out. Coaching had a huge impact on the success of the programs identified below. They were all difference makers.
Stanford – National Champions! Those two words pretty much sums it up. Stanford won the program's first national championship in 2015 in more than one-hundred years of men's soccer. When Jeremy Gunn the became the head coach at Stanford in 2012 the Cardinal were coming off a 6-10-2 season. Nonetheless many felt it was just a matter of time before Stanford under Gunn's direction won a national championship. He proved them right in 2015 with an 18-2-3 season that included the program's second consecutive Pac-12 championship and wins over Santa Clara, Ohio State, and number one seeded Wake Forest on the road to advance to the College Cup where they then topped Akron and Clemson to secure the national championship. The success the Cardinal enjoyed in 2015 didn't occur overnight. Stanford steadily and yearly upped their talent level and their mental toughness under Gunn's guidance The Cardinal were 9-8-1 in 2012, 10-7-4 in 2013 in which they returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2001, and 13-3-3 in 2014 when the program won its first Pac-12 title since back in 2001. Junior forward Jordan Morris and senior defender Brandon Vincent were NSCAA and College Soccer News All-Americans. Morris, Vincent and senior midfielder Ty Thompson were NCAA Division I All-Far West Region selections. Junior goalkeeper Andrew Epstein was an All-Far West Second Team selection and senior midfielder Eric Verso an All-Far West Third Team selection. This team had plenty of star power but the strength of the Cardinal from top to bottom and their mental toughness are the factors that separated this group from past Stanford teams.
Clemson – This has been a great year to be a Clemson Tiger. Clemson had a banner season in 2015 in which they were 17-3-4 and advanced to the national championship game for the first time in twenty-eight years. The Tigers returned to prominence on the national scene several years ago but it is impossible to talk about the 2015 campaign without reflecting on what Mike Noonan has accomplished since taking over the reigns of the program in 2010. It was clear early own that good things were happening at Clemson under Noonan's direction as he slowly but surely began to rebuild a winning attitude while at the same time making new inroads on the recruiting trail that improved the level of talent on board. In 2013 the Tigers returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 2006 season. In 2014 they took another huge step forward when they won the ACC Tournament Championship and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in NCAA Tournament play. The success the Tigers had in 2015 is also a positive refletion on the perseverence, dedication, not to mention the talent of the 2015 senior class of forwards T.J. Casner and Kyle Murphy, midfielder Paul Clowes who was named the ACC Midfielder of the Year , and back Kyle Fisher who was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Clemson was awarded the number two seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced past Elon, UC Santa Barbara and Maryland to return to the College Cup for the first time in ten years. They then advanced past Syracuse in penalty kicks before losing to Stanford in the national championship match. Noonan was named the 2015 National Coach of the Year by the NSCAA. Fisher, Casner, and Clowes were named to the College Soccer News All-American Team and freshman back Patrick Bunk-Anderson was named to the CSN All-Freshman Team. Casner, Fisher, and goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell were named NSCAA All-Americans.
Syracuse – 2015 was a season of firsts for Syracuse. Under the direction of Ian McIntyre the Orange advanced to the College Cup for the first time in the history of the program. They also won their first Atlantic Coast Conference Championship with an amazing run in the conference tournament that included advancing past N.C. State at home and then North Carolina, Clemson, and Notre Dame on the road. Syracuse finished the season with an impressive 16-5-4 overall record. It was the second season in a row that the Orange won sixteen games which is just one win away from the single season record of seventeen wins in 1982. Syracuse was ranked as the number three team in the nation in the season ending College Soccer News National Poll and as the number four team in the country in the final NSCAA Poll to record the highest season ending ranking in program history. McIntyre who became the head coach at Syracuse in 2010 belongs on the short list of coaches who have totally turned programs around during the past five seasons. The 2015 season was particularly impressvie because the Orange entered the season with a lot of new faces on the pitch. When McIntyre arrived he immediately began putting in place a solid foundation upon which to build the program. The results of his efforts began to show in the win column in 2012 when the Orange won fourteen games and earned a berth in the NCAA Tourney for the first time since the 1984 season and then advanced to the Sweet Sixteen earning the programs first ever NCAA Tournament wins. In 2013 Syracuse joined the ACC and recorded a 10-7-1 overall record. In 2014 they were 16-4-1 and again advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. In 2015 sophomore midfielder Julian Buescher was named an All-American by both the NSCAA and College Soccer News. Defender Miles Robinson and goalkeeper Hendrik Hilpert were named to the College Soccer News All-Freshman Team.
Akron – The Zips had an outstanding season in 2015 during which they had an 18-3-3 overall record and advanced to the College Cup for the first time since 2010. Akron won both the MAC regular season and tournament titles. They were awarded the number four seed in the NCAA Tournament and then topped Rutgers, SMU and Creighton to advance to the Final Four where their season came to an end when fell to eventual national champion Stanford 8 to 7 in a penalty kick shootout after the game was tied 0-0 at the end of 110 minutes of play. Junior midfieder Adam Najem was named an All-American by both the NSCAA and College Soccer News. Najem, sophomores Sam Gainford, Stuart Holthusen, Richie Laryea and junior Brad Rhaak and senior Andrew Souders were named to the All-MAC First Team. Akron along with Indiana, Maryland, UCLA and Virginia are the only five teams to have earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the past nine seasons. Akron is 48-13-6 in the three seasons that Jared Embick has been the head coach of the program.
Wake Forest – Wow. The Demon Deacons had a teriffic season going 17-3-2 overall with a 6-0-2 mark in Atlantic Coast Conference play. The Deacons were awarded the number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and fell one win shy of the College Cup when they lost a 2-1 heartbreaker in overtime to eventual national champion Stanford in the Elite Eight. Wake Forest had as many if not more signature victories than any team in the country in 2015 with wins over the likes of Syracuse, Akron, Boston College, South Carolina, North Carolina, Charlotte and Indiana. Coach Bobby Muuss was named the ACC Coach of the Year in his first season as the Demon Deacon head coach. Muuss and his staff did an excellent job of putting all the pieces together to form a unified and focused team in 2015 on both sides of the ball. Midfielder Jack Harrison was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. Teammates midfielders Ian Harkes and Jacori Hayes joined Harrison as All-ACC First Team selections while senior forward Michael Gamble and redshirt-junior goalkeeper Alec Ferrell were named to the All-ACC Second Team. Harrison, Gamble, Harkes and Hayes were all named to the NSCAA All-South Region Team while Harrison, who elected to forgo his final three seasons at Wake Forest to enter the professional ranks via a Generation adidas contract, was also named a First Team All-American by the NSCAA and College Soccer News. This is a program with a lot of good things going for it including momemtum. It is noteworthy that Wake Forest was the top team in the country in attendance in 2015 with an average of 2,720 fans on hand at Spry Stadium to witness and contrubute to the success the program enjoyed. It is also noteworthy that Gamble and Philip Parker were the only two seniors on the 2015 roster. Stay tuned for what what has all the makings of another special season in 2016.
Seattle University – Record breaking might be the two best words to describe Seattle's season in 2016. The Redhawks took another big step forward with an 18-4-1 overall record that established that this is a program that is for real with many more good things likely to come. The Redhawks had signature wins over Santa Clara, Washington, Oregon State, UNLV, Utah Valley and UCLA. Seattle won the Western Athletic Conference regular seaosn and tournament titles to earn the program's second spot in the NCAA Tourney. They were subsequently awarded the number eleven seed in the NCAA Tourney and topped UCLA 1-0 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in the Division I history of the program. Sophomore forward David Olsen and junior defender Kyle Bjornethun who was the WAC Defensive Player of the Year were named 2015 All-Americans by both the NSCAA and College Soccer News. Midfielder Sergio Rivas was named the WAC Freshman of the Year. Pete Fewing was honored as the WAC Coach of the Year as well as the NSCAA West Regional Coach of the Year. Seattle was ranked as the number eleven team in the nation in the final College Soccer News Season Ending poll and as the number twelve team in the country in the final NSCAA poll. Seniors Michael Roberts, Shane Haworth, Hamza Haddadi, and Austin Sweeney leave Seattle with the legacy taking the program to a higher level during their tenure as a Redhawk.
Denver – What a season. The Pioneers won the Summit League regular season and tournament titles and were the only undefeated team in the country heading into postseason play. They were awarded the number thirteen seed in the NCAA Tournament and hosted an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in the history of the program. Denver finished the 2015 season with a 15-1-3 overall record and were ranked as the number sixteen team in the country in the season ending College Soccer News poll and the number seventeen team in the final NSCAA poll. Back Reagan Dunk was named the Summit League Defensive Player of the Year and became the first player in the D1 one history of the program to be named an NSCAA and College Soccer News All-American. Jamie Franks was named the Summit League Coach of the Year, Dan Jackson was named the Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year and Andre Shinyashiki was named the League Freshman of the Year. No first year head coach in the country had a more productive season in 2015 than Denver's Jamie Franks. Jackson and defensive midfielder Jordan Schwitzer were the only two seniors on the 2015 roster so the likelihood of even greater accomplishments in the future looks pretty good. Franks summed it up well when he stated, "The program will be stronger from all the results we had.".
North Florida – The standard of excellence was forever raised at North Florida in 2015. The Ospreys had their first ten win season since beginning Division I play in 2005. They won their first ever Atlantic Sun Conference regular season title with a 4-0-1 mark in league play. The Ospreys also won their first ever Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship topping USC Upstate 7-0 in the tourney final to secure their first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament. Derek Marinatos was named the 2015 Atlantic Sun Conference Co-Coach of the Year. Defender Jay Bolt, midfielder Alex Morrell and forward Helge Pietschman were named First Team All-Atlantic Sun Conference. Goalkeeper Kyle Nasta, defender Simen Solstad, and midfielder Josh Castellanos and forward Milan Kovacs were named Second Team All-Conference selections. Midfielder Ivan Castro was named to the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team. Pietschman, Morrell and Nasta were NSCAA All-Southeast Region Second Team selections.
Radford – The Highlanders under the direction of Marc Reeves had a banner season in 2015 in which they were 14-4-2 overall and returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 2000 season. The berth in the tourney was Radford's first NCAA at-large invite in the history of the program and they became only the second team in Radford history to earn an at-large berth. The Highlanders went 7-1-1 in Big South Conference play to secure their second consecutive regular season Big South championship and their sixth in program history. Defender Daniel O'Keefe became the first player in Radford history to be named the Big South Defensive Player of the Year. He was also named to the NSCAA All-South Region First Team. Defender Jo Vetle Rimstad was named to the NSCAA All-South Region Second Team. Goalkeeper Aitor Pouseu Blanco, midfielder Jamie Summers and forward Sivert Daehlie who was named the Big South Freshman of the Year were NSCAA All-South Region Third Team selections. O'Keefe, Daehlie, and Summers were all All-Big South First Team selections.
SMU – The Mustangs exceeded expectations in 2015 under the guidance of first year head coach Kevin Hudson. It was a season that will set the pace for seasons to come under Hudson. SMU won the AAC regular season title with a 7-0-1 mark in regular season conference play. They earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tourney to earn a spot in the tournament for the 18th time in the past 22 years. They then topped Utah Valley in the first round and upset number 13 seeded Denver in the second round before losing to Akron 2-1 in the Sweet Sixteen to close out a very successful season with a 15-3-4 overall record. Mauro Cichero was named an All-American by both the NSCAA and College Soccer News. Cichero was also named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year. MIchael Nelson was named the AAC Goalkeeper of the Year. John Lujano was named the AAC Midfielder of the Year. Kevin Hudson and his staff were named the ACC Coaching Staff of the Year. Nelson, Cichero and Lujano were All-AAC First Team selections.
Santa Clara – The Broncos returned to prominance on the national scene in 2015. After beginning the season with a 1-4-0 record and a loss to San Francisco in their first West Coast Conference game they rebounded to finish the season with a 11-8-1 overall record and a 5-1-1 mark in West Coast Conference play. Cameron Rast stated, "Any time this team had its back against the wall, they were able to focus and be sharp." Santa Clara finished the season on a six-match unbeaten streak to claim their 12th WCC title on the final day of the regular season. The Broncos returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2010 season and defeated Cal State Fullerton in the first round 3-0 to secure their first win in NCAA Tournament play since the 2007 campaign. This was a season that bodes well for the future of the program. Rast stated, "This is just a starting point for us with a lot of young guys at key positions coming back." He added, "Our senior five (Dylan Autran, Alfred Edmonds, Matt Escobar, Kendall McIntosh, Max Ornstil) were fantastic this year when it mattered most. A great credit to them for everything they gave to our program." Sophomore forward Delgadillo was named to the NSCAA All-Far West First Team and goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh was named to the NSCAA All-Far West Third Team. Rast was named the WCC Coach of the Year. Delgadillo and sophomore defender Valedar Anderson were named to the All-WCC First Team. McIntosh and senior midfielder Max Ornstill were named to the WCC All-WCC Second Team. McIntosh was also named the Co-WCC Goalkeeper of the Year and defender Luis Urias was named the WCC Freshman of the Year.
FIU – The Panthers finished the 2015 season with their best record in over eleven years. Under the direction of Scott Calabrese, who was in his second season as the head coach at FIU, the Panthers were 12-7-1, finished regular season play with a record above .500 for the first time since the 2005 season, won the 2015 CUSA title by defeating ODU, Kentucky and Marshall in the conference tournament, and returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 2004 season. Calabrese was named the NSCAA Southeast Region Coach of the Year and the CUSA Co-Coach of the Year. Junior defender Marvin Hezel was an NSCAA All-Southeast Region First Team selection. Senior midfielder Daniel Gonzalez and junior forward Luis Betancur were All-Southeast Region Second Team selections. Henzel was a CUSA First Team selection. Gonzalez was a CUSA Second Team selection as was midfielder Ismael Longo and Betancur. The 2015 season was a difference maker at FIU and one that provides a springboard for even greater success in the future.
Hofstra – The Pride won the CAA regular season and tournament titles and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time overall and the first time since 2006. The Pride then topped Lehigh 2-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tourney before falling to Georgetown 3-0 in the second round to conclude a very special season. Richard Nuttall was named the CAA Coach of the Year. Junior midfielder Joseph Holland was named an NSCAA All-American after a season in which he powered the Hofstra attack with eight goals and nine assists. Holland was also named the CAA Player of the Year and a First Team All-CAA member along with junior defender Harri Hawkins. Senior goalkeeper Patrick Pray was named an All-CAA Second Team selection. Hofstra concluded the season with a 14-8-0 overall record with a 6-2-0 mark in CAA play. They were ranked as the number twenty-two team in the country in the College Soccer News season ending poll.
Drake – Resilient and determined were words that could be used to describe Drake in 2015 particularly down the home stretch under first year head coach Gareth Smith. The Bulldogs finished strong winning three contests in five days, shutting out Central Arkansas, Bradley, and host SIUE, to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to earn the program's third overall invite to the NCAA Tournament and first since the 2009 season. Smith stated, "Great teams find a way to win regardless of the obstacles such as injuries and three consecutive games and that is what these young men have done." The Bulldogs then upset Kentucky on the road 2-1 behind goals from senior defender Alec Bartlett and redshirt junior James Grunet in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing in the second round to Creighton in Omaha to conclude a gutsy season with a 13-5-3 overall record. The thirteen wins were the most for the program in a single season since the 2009 campaign. The Bulldogs were ranked as the number twenty-four team in the country in the College Soccer News season ending national poll. Bartlett, junior forward Mueng Sunday, and junior midfielder James Wypych were named to the All-MVC First Team. Sunday and Wypych were also NSCAA All-West Region First Team selections. It was a season that Smith and the Drake players will look back upon with fond memories and one which should provide momentum for the future.
Elon – This is a program that has enjoyed its share of success in the past but nonetheless they belong on the short list of teams that significantly exceeded expectations in 2015 with fourteen wins, a share of the CAA regular season title, and a multi-week stay in the top twenty in most national polls. The Phoenix gained attention on the national scene and rocketed upward in the polls when they began the 2015 campaign with a 7-0-0 mark that included a signature win over highly regarded Wake Forest on the road. Elon was subsequently awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament and topped Winthrop in the first round of play before losing to Clemson at Clemson in the second round to conclude the year with a 14-6-1 overall record. A very good showing for a team that was picked to finish in the number five spot in the CAA race in the conference's preseason poll. Second year head coach Chris Little was recognized by the NSCAA as the Midwest Region Coach of the Year. Senior Nathan Diehl was named the CAA Defender of the Year and an All-CAA First Team selection. Seniors James Brace and Miguel Salazar were also named to the All-CAA First Team. It was a bit of an up and down season but all things considered the Phoenix soared in 2015.