Harry Did It – Heading into the 2013 college soccer season the big question at Notre Dame was whether anyone would be able to fill the huge void on the offensive side of the ball that the graduation of Ryan Finley (21g, 4a) created. Leon Brown netted the first three goals of the season for the Irish but Harrison Shipp (12g, 10a) became the driving force in the Irish attack early on and continued to make good things happen throughout the season doubling his goal scoring output from the 2012 campaign. Sophomore Patrick Hodan (11g, 5a) was also a big contributor to the Irish attack. Now the question is whether Hodan or someone else will be able to fill the void that Shipp's departure creates.
Pat On The Back – Players who have a banner season like Maryland forward Patrick Mullins did in 2012 who elect to return for their senior season like Mullins did in 2013 instead of entering the professional ranks always face the risk of declining their stock. After all Mullins was the Hermann Trophy winner in 2012. Credit Mullins (19g, 8a) with another banner season in 2013 that likely enhanced rather than dimenished his stock. The Terps fell one game short of winning the national championship but that takes nothing away from the outstanidng career that Mullins had at Maryland and the tremendous legacy he leaves behind.
Go Fish – The 2013 season was Jeremy Fishbein's 12th as the head coach of New Mexico. A solid case could be made that no one did a better job of coaching his team this year than Fishbein. Sure, the Lobos were disappointed with their loss in the semi-finals of the College Cup but when the sting of that is over this is a group that can really feel good about what they accomplished in 2013 including a very impressive run to the Final Four. It's easy to forget that heading into the 2013 season the Lobos had more than the average number of big gaps to replace including the likes of Devon Sandoval, Blake Smith, and Victor Rodiguez among others. Seniors Michael Kafari, Michael Calderon, Kyle Venter and Michael Lisch all had solid seasons and were at the heart of the success this team enjoyed. They too will be hard to replace but at New Mexico there always seems to be a healthy balance between the classes. As a result some newcomers always have the opportunity to contribute and there is always an experienced group of seniors on board to provide direction and stability.
Reid All About It – Connecticut under the direction of Ray Reid is the only program in the country to advance to the Elite Eight for the past three seasons. The Huskies had a 12-3-8 season in 2013 that included a seventeen match unbeatern streak. The "cup half full rub" has been that UConn has been unable to advance to the College Cup with unexpected losses at home to Charlotte in 2011 and Creighton in 2012 in the Elite Eight to prematurly end both seasons. Connecticut's season ending loss to Virginia this year, perhaps because it was on the road, didn't have the sting that the losses to Charlotte and Creighton had. Don't interpret that to mean that the Huskies were not disappointed with the loss because it goes without saying that this is a program that is way beyond moral victories. The point is that the Huskies showed a lot of talent and grit when they topped Quinnipiac 2-1 and then advanced past UMBC and UCLA on the road in penatly kicks. In the contest with UCLA Connecticut had to recover from a two goal deficit to eventually send the contest into overtime to earn the right to advance to the Elite Eight. Give Reid and the Huskies a lot of credit. This is a program that is consistently among the best in the country and that will again be so in 2014 if everyone who is eligible to return comes back.
Pac-12 Looking Good – Three teams from the ACC played their way into the College Cup but it's still impressive that three of the top four seeds in the NCAA Tourney went to UCLA, Washington, and California out of the Pac-12. Not even the most die hard pundit from the west coast predicted that heading into the 2013 season.
Dog Gone – UMBC's early exit from the NCAA Tourney when the Retrievers came out on the short end of a penalty kick shootout to Connecticut after the contest was tied 2-2 at the end of regulation and overtime likely left the UMBC faithful wondering what might have been. However, it does not diminish the outstanding sixteen win and high national ranking season that the Retrievers had under the direction of head coach Pete Caringi, Jr. This group was for real. Seniors Pete Caringi III (13g, 3a), Kadeem Dacres (7g, 4a), Phil Saunders, and Travis Dennis leave the building after having forever raised the bar of excellence at UMBC. A solid group of Retrievers return in 2014 with the opportunity to build on the success of the 2013 season.
Milwaukee's Finest – No, we are not referring to a beverage. The Marquette Golden Eagles and the Milwaukee Panthers both had banner seasons. Marquette under the direction of Louis Bennett won the Big East Tournament and was awarded the number nine seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles then topped Akron to secure their first ever victory in the NCAA Tournament. Their season came to an end when they were defeated by Virginia in the Round of 16 to finish with a 12-5-5 overall record. Milwaukee under the direction of second year head coach Kris Kelderman won the Horizon League Tournament and returned to the NCAA Tourney field for the first time since the 2005 season. The Panthers were defeated by Wisconsin in the first round to conclude their season with a 15-3-2 overall record. Since Milwaukee topped Marquette 2-1 in the Milwaukee Cup during regular season play some might say that the Panthers were Milwaukee's finest in 2013. Others might feel that the Golden Eagles had the better season based on their national ranking. One thing is for sure, the trend line for both programs is on the way up and both have a solid core of key players slated to return in 2014. That bodes well for the rivalary and should make the Milwaukee Cup in 2014 very interesting not to mention competitive.
Anchors Away – The Navy at one time was not exactly a feared opponent in college soccer. In fact some would have argued that it was next to impossible to put together a team at Annapolis that could make an impact on the national scene. Dave Brandt and a talented group of Mids have changed all of that. Navy was 16-4-2 in 2013 with a perfect 9-0-0 mark in Patriot League play. After winning the program's first ever Patriot League title since joining the league in 1991 and earning a berth in the NCAA Tourney for the first time in twenty-five years, Navy traveled to Richmond where they beat a very good VCU team 3-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Their season then came to an end when they were topped by Wake Forest 2-1. Navy finished the 2013 campaign ranked as the number 25 team by the NSCAA and as the number 22 team in the land in the College Soccer News poll. Brandt will lose a very solid senior class that includes forward Dave Arnold, midfielders Martin Sanchez and Guy Skord, defender Nick Dubee, and goalkeeper Gavin Snyder but the cupboard will be far from bare with forward Jamie Dubyoski, the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year and defender Joseph Greenspan, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, among those slated to return in 2014.
Flipping Out – Washington's senior defender Michael Harris led the Pac-12 Conference with nine assists. Eight of his nine assists resulted from flip-throws. There is no denying that Harris' long and accurate flip throws added an additional dimension to Washington's attack and clearly added to their effectiveness out of restarts. Washington had a breakthrough season under the direction of third-year head coach Jamie Clark with a 16-2-4 overall record and a run to the Elite Eight. This is a program with a ton of momentum.
No More Monkey Business for Bobby – Bobby Clark is clearly among the most successful and effective coaches in the country and without a doubt is a great ambassador for college soccer. Notre Dame has earned a berth in the NCAA Tourney in twelve of the thirteen seasons that he has been at the helm of the program. However, up until this year the Irish had never advanced to the College Cup. True, Clark took Stanford to the National Championship game in 1998 so he has been there before but that accomplishment had eluded him at Notre Dame including the 2012 season when the Irish were awarded the number one seed but were upset by Indiana in double-overtime in the Round of Sixteen. Clark got both the College Cup monkey and the National Championship monkey off his back this year as the Fighting Irish advanced past Wisconsin, Wake Forest and Michigan State to advance to the Final Four and then topped New Mexico and Maryland to win the National Championship and finish the year with a 17-1-6 record. The monkey, he's gone.
Sparty – Michigan State established a new single-season record for wins in 2013 securing fourteen victories in route to advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since the 1968 campaign. This is a program that has earned a berth in the NCAA Tourney six out of the last seven years including four out of the last five that Damon Rensing has been at the helm of the program but over the last few years the Spartans' win total has been hampered due to injuries and slow starts. In 2011 Michigan State began the season with a 1-5-1 record and in 2012 they got off to a 3-6-1 record. Rensing's team avoided both a slow start and injuries in 2013 while continuting to improve as the season progressed. The result was a banner season.
Young, Talented and Tenacious – The Virginia Cavaliers are among the premier programs in the country For proof look no further than the fact that they have been in the NCAA Tourney for thirty-three consecutive seasons. The question at Virginia, like it is at only a handful of programs in the country, is not whether they will field a talented team with impressive resumes but whether they will field a team that gels and has the mental and physical toughness to win the big games. A young and talented Virginia team entered the 2013 season with high expectations but questions arose regarding their team chemistry and toughness when they started with a 1-3-0 record. As the season progressed the Cavaliers gelled as a team and displayed the determination and tenacity one might expect from a much more veteran team. Any questions that might have existed about the toughness of this group were put to rest when Virginia prevailed 3-1 over a very talented Marquette team in the Sweet Sixteen despite having to play a man down for 89 minutes. A young, talented and tenacious Virginia team advanced to the College Cup and finished the season with a 13-6-5 record. With just about everyone eligible to come back, the Cavaliers will again be highly regarded in 2014.
Down but Not Out – Indiana's string of consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tourney looked like it might come to a halt this year at twenty-six when the Hoosiers entered the Big Ten Tournament with an 6-11-1 overall record that included a 2-4-0 mark in conference play. To their credit IU topped Michigan 2-1, advanced past Penn State in penalty kicks after a scoreless tie, and defeated Michigan State 1-0 in the Big Ten Tourney to earn the conferece's automatic berth and extend their streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament berths to twenty-seven. The Hoosiers were one and done in the NCAA Tourney losing 3-2 to Akron in the first round to end the season with a 8-12-2 record. The key statistic at IU this year was 38 goals allowed.
Leo, Leo, Leo – Anyone who followed UCLA had to be impressed with the role and impact that junior midfielder Leo Stolz had on the Bruin's success this year. With the possible exception of Notre Dame's Harrison Shipp, no player in the country stepped up to the plate and assumed a greater and more significant role for his team than Stolz. The Pac-12 Player of the Year and consensus All-American netted eleven goals and contributed eight assists for the Bruins in 2013. Stolz was the guy who set the pace for UCLA and was at the heart of the Bruin attack. In 2012, Stolz was a Pac-12 First Team selection who finished the season with zero goals and eight assists.
Big Mac – Make It a Double – In 2012, Mackenzie Pridham became the first Cal Poly player to be named the Big West Offensive Player of the Year netting twelve goals. He duplicated that feat in 2013 when he was once again named the Big West Offensive Player of theYear while putting fourteen into the back of the net including six game-winning goals. Pridham concluded his tenure at Cal Poly as the Mustang's all-time leading goal scorer with twenty-seven. He was named a 2013 College Soccer News Third Team All-American and was an NSCAA All-West First Team selection. Cal Poly had an exciting yet up and down 2013 season with a 10-9-2 overall record.
Going Coastal – Credit Coastal Carolina under the direction of Shaun Docking with another successful season both in and out of conference play. The Chanticleers from the Big South Conference followed a 20 win 2012 season with a 19 win campaign in 2013. This is a team that has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the past two years. In 2012 they defeated Elon and Wake Forest before being eliminated by Maryland. In 2013 they advanced past East Tennessee State and Charlotte before losing 1-0 to California. The Chanticleers lose midfielders Pedro Ribeiro (11g, 7a) and Justin Portillo (0g, 9a) to graduation but forward Ricky Garbanzo (13g, 1a) is among those eligible to return along with a rock solid back-line that includes Shawn McLaws, Uchenna Uzo and Kai Morton and goalkeeper Devin Cook. This year Coastal Carolina ranked second in the nation in goals scored placing forty-seven in the back of the frame.
Kudos Zags – Gonzaga was picked to finish in the number seven spot in the seven team West Coast Conference preseason poll. Instead the Zags were 10-6-3 overall with a 5-4-3 in WCC play which was good for a third place finish behind Loyola Marymount who won their first outright WCC title and Santa Clara. Gonzaga also made a little noise on the national scene in the early going when they upset UC Santa Barbara 2-1 and topped Cal Poly 1-0. The Zags also had a solid win over a good Wisconsin team and topped Loyola Marymount twice. Losses down the home stretch to Santa Clara, San Diego, and San Francisco likely kept Einar Thorarinsson's team from returning to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 2007 season but that takes nothing away from the fact that all things considered this was a group that had a very solid season. Senior midfielder Nick Hamer was named the WCC Player of the Year and senior defender Josh Phillips was named the WCC Defender of the Year. Junior forward Clark Phillips netted nine goals to lead the Zags attack. Senior Ryan Caballero recorded seven shutouts in goal.