A Look Back At The 2021 Season. These Programs All Accomplished Something Special And will Look Back ON The Season With Pride And A Sense Of Accomplishment.
Florida State – The Seminoles entered the 2021 season with their sights set on winning the national championship. Anything else would be a disappointment. FSU won the ACC Tournament and was awarded the number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles then defeated South Alabama, SMU, Pepperdine and Michigan to advance to the College Cup for the 12th time in program history. FSU continued to advance defeating Rutgers 1-0 in the national semifinals to earn the right to play for the national championship for the sixth time. The Noles then topped BYU in a match that was determined by a penalty kick shootout after it was scoreless at the end of regulation and extra time. That was the path they followed to earn the program’s fourth national title but the real story of the 2021 team was the way they merged their individual talents into a unified and focused team that simply was not going to be denied. FSU won it all as one.
BYU – The Cougar seniors were committed and focused from the beginning of the season on doing something special that no other BYU team had ever accomplished and they did. BYU had an explosive offense that produced a nation leading 77 goals. When they settled into a rhythm this group was unstoppable as reflected in the fact that they scored six or more goals in eight contests. They also played solid team defense holding opponents to a total of only 17 goals. The Cougars were 8-1-0 in WCC play to claim a share of the WCC Championship. They were subsequently awarded a number four seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced past New Mexico 6-0, Alabama 4-1, upset Virginia 1-0 on the road, and defeated South Carolina 4-1 in the Elite Eight to secure a spot in the College Cup for the first time in the history of the program. The Cougars advanced past rival and fellow WCC member Santa Clara in the national semifinals in a match that had to be determined by a penalty kick shootout after it was scoreless at the conclusion of 110 minutes of play. BYU then played FSU to a scoreless tie in the national final before coming out on the short end of a penalty kick shootout. This team will be remembered for taking the program to a higher level.
Rutgers – It was a season of firsts for a goal and team-oriented “28 strong” group of Scarlet Knight players who entered the season with the desire to make their presence known in both the Big Ten and on the national scene. Mission accomplished. This team was talented but they also had that something special that gave them the edge to keep moving forward as a team that all programs seek but few are able to achieve. The Scarlet Knights were a perfect 10-0-0 in Big Ten regular season play securing the programs first ever Big Ten title. They remained focused when their 13-game winning streak came to an end when they were upset 1-0 by Michigan (a team that they defeated 4-1 during regular season play) in the Big Ten Tournament Championship contest. Rutgers was awarded the program’s 10th straight invite to the NCAA Tournament along with a number one seed. They then advanced past Bucknell 2-0, Saint Louis 4-0 and TCU and Arkansas in matches that were determined by a penalty kick shootout to secure a spot in the College Cup for the second time and the first since the 2015 season. A truly outstanding season then came to an end when Rutgers was topped 1-0 by FSU in the national semifinals. The Scarlet Knights concluded the 2021 campaign with a 19-4-2 overall record that equaled the most wins in program history.
Arkansas – The Razorbacks had much to celebrate in 2021. It was a stellar ceiling breaking season for an exciting attack-oriented Arkansas team that found the back of the net a total of 71 times. The Razorbacks won the SEC regular season title for the third year in a row with a 9-1-0 mark in conference play. They had a program best 14 game winning streak, they were awarded a program best number two seed in the NCAA Tournament, and topped Northwestern State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. Arkansas concluded the 2021 season with a 19-4-1 overall record earning the most wins to date in a single season in program history. The Razorbacks were ranked as the number 6 team in the country by the United Soccer Coaches and by College Soccer News as the number 8 team in the nation in their season ending polls. This pace setting group of Razorbacks forever raised the standard of excellence for the program and set a pace for future teams to follow.
TCU – Few teams had a more productive 2021 season than TCU. The Horned Frogs won the Big 12 regular season title with a 7-1-1 record. They then secured the Big 12 tournament title for the first time in program history. TCU earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the 6th straight season and were awarded a number 4 seed. The Horned Frogs advanced past Prairie View A and M and Princeton before their season came to an end when they were then edged by Rutgers in a match that went to a penalty kick shootout after the teams were deadlocked at 1-1 at the conclusion of regulation and overtime. TCU had a program best 19 wins that included a school record 14 game-winning streak. They were proficient on both sides of the ball ranking in the top ten in the country in both total points and goals-against-average. The Horned Frogs were ranked as the number five team in the nation in the College Soccer News Season Ending Poll and the number nine team in the United Soccer Coaches Season Ending Poll.
Tennessee – The Vols belong on the short list of teams that greatly exceeded expectations in 2021. Tennessee was picked to finish in the number five spot in the SEC preseason poll. Forget the preseason poll – the Vols preceded to win the SEC regular season East Division Title and won the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2008. They were awarded a number three seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced past Lipscomb and Washington State before their season came to an end in the Sweet Sixteen. This was a balanced Tennessee team that averaged 2.61 goals per game and held opponents to an average of 0.74 goals per game while setting a new single season record 13 shutouts. Tennessee concluded a truly historic 2021 season with 20 wins for the first time in program history. Not many teams ever record twenty wins seasons. The Vols concluded the 2021 season ranked by both College Soccer News and the United Soccer Coaches as the number 11 team in the country. Not bad for a program that was predicted to finish in the number five spot in the SEC preseason poll.
Milwaukee – This is a program that has had a lot of success as reflected in their 77-8-7 overall record over the past five seasons. Nonetheless the 2021 season was a banner record breaking year for the Panthers whose 19 wins tied the school record for the most wins in a single season. Milwaukee secured the Horizon League regular season title with a perfect 11-0-0 mark and won the Horizon League Tournament for the fourth year in a row to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time. The Panthers put an exclamation mark on their season when they topped a Xavier team 1-0 that had 16 wins and had won the Big East Conference regular season title. Milwaukee’s 14 game-winning streak and their season subsequently came to an end when they were defeated by number two seed Virginia 2-0 in Charlottesville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. You don’t score a total of 63 goals, allow only 8, and finish the season with a 19-2-0 record without being a very talented, composed and competitive soccer team. Milwaukee was ranked as the number 21 team in the country in the season ending College Soccer News National poll.
Vermont – After beginning conference play with losses to Binghamton and Stony Brook, the Catamounts showed a ton of resilience when they rebounded to win the America East regular season title for the first time since 1996 with a 6-2-0 mark in regular season play. They followed that up by winning the America East Tournament for the first time in program history to claim the program’s second ever invite to the NCAA Tournament and return to the tourney field for the first time since 1984. A special momentum building season to remember at Vermont came to an end with a 12-6-1 overall record when the Catamounts nine game winning streak (their longest since 1979) came to an end when they were topped 2-0 by Princeton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan – The Wolverines played their best soccer of the year in 2021 when it mattered the most. They made their presence known in the Big Ten as well as on the national scene. Michigan topped number 6 seed Penn State 3-1, number 2 seed Purdue 4-1 and number one seed Rutgers 1-0, a team that they lost to 4-1 during regular season play, to win the Big Ten Tournament title for the first time since 1999. They were subsequently awarded a number two seed in the NCAA Tournament and defeated Bowling Green 3-0, Wake Forest 2-0 and Tennessee 3-0 to advance to the Elite Eight for the third time in program history and the first time since 2013. A truly outstanding season ended in the Elite Eight when Michigan was edged 1-0 in overtime by eventual national champion Florida State in the Elite Eight in Tallahassee. The Wolverines finished the season with an 18-4-3 overall record which tied the program’s single season win total last achieved by the 2013 team.
UC Irvine – This UC Irvine team came through in the clutch defeating Cal Poly 2-0 in their final regular season contest to secure a share of the Big West Conference regular season title with Cal Poly. UC Irvine then defeated UCSB 1-0 and Cal Poly 1-0 to claim the Big West Tournament title for the first time since 1997 to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the since 2011. A determined, focused, and resilient group of Anteaters then pulled off what many would consider the biggest surprise of the 2021 NCAA Tournament when they upset number two seed and Pac-12 champion UCLA 1-0 to advance to the second round for only the second time in program history. The Anteaters seven game winning streak and 544-minute shutout streak came to an end with a 16-6-0 overall record when they were topped 3-0 by Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
New Mexico – A team oriented and unified Lobo squad won the Mountain West regular season title with a 7-2-2 mark in conference play to secure the number one seed in the conference tournament for the first time since 2011. They then followed that up by winning the Mountain West Tournament for the first time since 2011. New Mexico concluded a banner momentum building season with a 14-5-2 overall record that included a program best eight-game win streak when they were topped by BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Lobos 14 wins was the second-most wins in a single season in program history.
Samford – The Bulldogs won the Southern Conference regular season title with a perfect 9-0-0 mark in conference play. Samford defeated Chattanooga, Mercer and Furman to win the Southern Conference Tournament and the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament that accompanies it. Samford then became the first Bulldog team to ever earn an outright win in the NCAA Tournament when they defeated a very good Auburn team 2-0 on the road. Samford’s season subsequently came to an end in the second round when they were edged by St. John’s in a match that had to be decided by a penalty kick shootout after it was tied 2-2 at the end of 110 minutes of play. The Bulldogs concluded a barrier breaking 2021 season with a 16-3-3 overall record. The sixteen wins established a new school record for wins in a single season.
Northwestern State – NSU had a work rate that was second to none and paid dividends throughout the 2021 season. For starters they won the Southland Conference regular season title for the first time since 2000 after going 10-2-0 against conference opponents. The Lady Demons then won the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time since 2005. Their magical and historic season came to an end with a 12-6-2 overall record when they were topped by the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Stuart Gore’s first season as the head coach at Northwestern State is one that put in place a very solid foundation upon which the program can build. It was also a season in which Gore and the NSU players will always look back upon with a great deal of pride.
Grand Canyon – The trend line took a sharp turn upward at Grand Canyon in 2021. After a total of 4 wins in 2019 and 8 wins in 2020 the Lopes took a giant step forward in 2021 winning the WAC West Division Regular Season title for the first time, the WAC Tournament title for the first time, and the program’s first ever berth in the NCAA Division I Tournament. Grand Canyon concluded a season of firsts with a 16-4-2 overall record and 7-1-2 record in WAC play to record their first winning season at the Division I level.
Picture from BYU Athletics