The 2020 season was a season like no other during which all programs faced the unique challenges presented by covid-19.
It will also be remebered with a special sense of pride and accomplishment for the following programs. it may be that put together an improbable run, greatly exceeded expectations, accomplished something for the first time, or achieved something that will be a springboard for future seasons. regardless of the reason, it was a special season for the programs listed below.
Santa Clara – Everything came together for a Santa Clara team that had the right mix of talent, grit, determination and vision to prevail in a unique season that was filled with challenges and uncertainty.
Come from behind wins on the road in March over BYU 2-1 and Pepperdine 4-3 served notice that Santa Clara had the potential to have a special season. The Broncos went on to win the WCC title and were awarded the number eleven seed in the NCAA Tournament.
However, with a shortened season and only seven contests under their belts and not having played a match for four weeks due to COVID-19 cancellations, a sustained run in the NCAA Tournament seemed unlikely. The Broncos proved otherwise topping Ohio State out of the Big Ten 4-1, number six seed Arkansas out of the SEC 2-1 and number sixteen seed Clemson out of the ACC 1-0 to claim a spot in the College Cup for the eleventh time but first time since 2004. Santa Clara joined an elite College Cup field that included Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State out of the ACC.
The Broncos then defeated number two seed North Carolina 3-1 to advance to the national championship match. Santa Clara then topped number one seed Florida State in a contest that was decided by penalty kicks after it was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and overtime. The Broncos won the program’s second national championship and first since 2001 to secure their place in the storied history of Santa Clara soccer.
Florida State – During the fall 2020 season FSU was 11-0-0. The Seminoles finished regular season play with an 8-0-0 record to earn a share of the ACC Regular Season Title. They followed that with wins over Notre Dame 2-0, Duke 4-0 and North Carolina 3-2 to win the ACC Tournament title for the seventh time. It was FSU’s first ever perfect season in ACC play and their second unbeaten season in ACC play. A perfect season is a feat in a conference that is the most competitive from top to bottom in the country.
FSU is among that elite handful of programs where players come expecting, not just hoping, to win a national championship. Winning a national championship, although difficult to achieve, has become a realistic rather than a stretch goal for FSU.
The Seminoles were awarded the number one seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament and advanced to the national final for the fifth time. They came as close as you can come to winning a national championship when they fell to Santa Clara in a contest that was decided by a penalty kick shootout after it was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and overtime. It was a disappointing end for a team that had its sights set on winning it all but that did not diminish what this team did accomplish.
Mark Krikorian was named the ACC Coach of the Year and he and his staff were named the Division I Women’s National Staff of the Year. Junior holding midfielder Jaelin Howell was the MAC Hermann Trophy winner which is presented to the top female player in NCAA Division I Soccer. Malia Berkely was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Howell was named the ACC Midfielder of the Year.
This was a very talented FSU team that will be remembered as being among the best of the best Seminole teams.
TCU – It was a season of firsts for the Horned Frogs. TCU took a big step forward when they defeated West Virginia 1-0 in their final match of the 2020 fall season to secure the program’s fist ever Big 12 Conference regular season title.
TCU achieved another first when they were awarded the number four seed in the NCAA Tournament. They subsequently topped New Mexico 6-2 and Georgetown in a contest that was decided by a penalty kick shootout to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. TCU’s season came to an end in the Elite Eight when they edged 1-0 by Virginia.
Eric Bell was honored as the Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year. Senior Emily Alvarado was named the Big 12 Goalkeeper of the Year, sophomore forward Grace Collins was named the Big 12 Player of the Year, and defender Marz Akins was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and an All-Freshman Team selection by College Soccer News.
Senior midfielder Yazmeen Ryan along with Alvarado and Collins were United Soccer Coaches and College Soccer News All-America Team selections.
TCU concluded an historic season of firsts with a 12-2-2 overall record.
Rice – During Brian Lee’s first season as the head coach at Rice in 2019 the Owls were 10-6-3 winning three more contests than they did in 2018. They also advanced to the second round of the CUSA Tournament for the first time since 2014.
Rice then took another step forward in the spring of 2021 with a 14-3-1 overall record that tied the program record for wins in a single season. They won the CUSA West regular season title with a 5-1-0 mark in conference play and concluded regular season play with a 10-2-0 overall record that included five consecutive shutouts.
Rice then advanced past Old Dominion, Southern Mississippi and Charlotte to earn the program’s fifth berth in the NCAA Tournament and return to the tourney field for the first time since 2017. The Owls took another big step forward when they defeated Furman 3-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to secure the program’s first ever win in the NCAA Tournament. They then put an exclamation mark on an already impressive season by upsetting number five seed West Virginia 1-0 in the second round to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history.
Rice’s season subsequently came to an end in the Sweet Sixteen when they lost to Virginia. The loss to Virginia was Rice’s first since they began an eleven game unbeaten streak on March 15.
Lee was named the CUSA Coach of the Year. Junior Bella Killgore who posted 11 shutouts was honored as the CUSA Goalkeeper of the Year and senior Mijke Roelfsma was named the CUSA Defender of the Year. Roelfsema was named a First Team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches becoming the first player in Rice’s twenty year history to be named a First Team All-American. Roelfsema was also a College Soccer News All-America Team selection.
It was a momentum building season for the Blue and Gray that bodes well for the future success of the program.
Vanderbilt – This team earned a place in Vanderbilt soccer history when as a number seven seed they defeated Mississippi State 4-0, Tennessee 4-2, Texas A and M 3-1 and Arkansas 3-1 to win the SEC tournament in the fall of 2020 to secure the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. It was the program’s first SEC Tournament title since 1994. A Vanderbilt team that had scored a total of 11 goals in eight regular season contests during the fall found the back of the net 14 times during their four SEC Tournament contests. The Commodores concluded the fall 2020 season with an 8-4-0 record.
Vanderbilt returned to the pitch in the spring of 2021 playing three exhibition contests and three more regular season contests that included a solid scoreless tie on the road against a highly regarded Duke team.
The Commodores secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament field for the fourth consecutive season and earned the programs first ever national seed. Their season came to an end when they were topped by Penn State 2-0 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless it was an inspirational season with a magical run in the SEC Tournament that will always be remembered and valued as something something special by Vanderbilt head coach Daren Ambrose and the Vanderbilt players.
Senior forward Haley Hopkins who led Vanderbilt in scoring for the third straight season was named an All-American by the United Soccer Coaches and College Soccer News.
Arizona State – It was a statement season for a gutsy Arizona State team under head coach Graham Winkworth that served notice that they were for real with regular season wins in Pac-12 play over Stanford, UCLA and USC, becoming only the fourth team in history to beat those three powerhouse programs in a single season.
The Sun Devils concluded regular season play with an 8-5-2 overall record that included a 4-3-2 mark in conference play. They were awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament returning to the tournament field for the first time since 2014.
They then topped Siena 4-0 in the first round of play and advanced to face number nine seed Duke in the second round. Arizona State gave Duke all they could handle in the second round with Nicole Douglas sending a header into the back of the frame in the 87th minute to tie the match at 1-1 to send it into overtime.
The Sun Devils subsequently fell to Duke 2-1 in double overtime to conclude a very productive and exciting season with a 9-6-2 overall record. It was somewhat of an up and down season for the Sun Devils but clearly one that created a solid foundation upon which to build. It also established that this is a program with the potential for even better things in the future.
Utah Valley – The Wolverines finished regular season WAC play with an 11-4-3 overall record and 10-2-2 mark in conference play to claim a share of its first-ever WAC regular season title.
Utah Valley then advanced past New Mexico State in a contest decided by a penalty kick shootout and topped rival Seattle 1-0 to win the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title for the first time since 2017 and the automatic berth in the NCAA Tourney that goes with it.
The Wolverines became the first team in the history of the program to win both the regular season and tournament titles. They then accomplished another milestone and forever raised the standard of excellence for the program when they defeated Memphis 1-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to secure the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament win. Junior forward Sadie Brockbank provided the game-winning goal in the win over Memphis.
The Wolverines entered their second round match with number six seed Arkansas unbeaten in their last nine matches. Their history making season then came to an end in the second round when they were topped 3-1 by the Razorbacks.
Redshirt sophomore Jenna Shepherd was named the WAC Defensive Player of the Year and was a First Team All-WAC selection along with senior midfielder Amber Tripp.
Iowa – A veteran Iowa team under Dave Dilanni had a highly successful 2019 season during which they tied the program’s single season win record with 15 wins and earned an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The Hawkeyes entered the spring season without twelve seniors from the 2019 team. They were a young team with a roster consisting of only one senior and 18 underclassmen including ten freshmen. The result was a steep learning curve that was the equivalent of two seasons in one and produced the most improbable run of the 2020 women’s college soccer season.
Iowa did not score a goal until the seventh game of the season and completed regular season play with a 2-8-1 record. To say that the Hawkeyes were a heavy underdog entering the Big Ten Regional Weekend is an understatement. It appeared that Iowa would have a short stay in Big Ten postseason play when they faced an Illinois team on the road in Champaign that they had lost to 3-0 during regular season play.
Instead against all odds, Iowa upset Illinois 2-1 with freshman Meike Ingles contributing the game-winning goal in overtime. The Hawkeyes then topped Minnesota 2-0 to earn a spot in the four team Big Ten Tournament field.
Their magical run continued when they upset nationally ranked Penn State 1-0 with Ingles again netting the game-winner to punch their ticket to the Big Ten championship contest where they upset Wisconsin 1-0 to secure the program’s first ever Big Ten Tournament title. All of Iowa’s postseason Big Ten wins were over teams that they had lost to during regular season play.
Iowa secured their second straight berth in the NCAA Tournament where they defeated Campbell 1-0 recording their fourth straight shutout to secure the program’s first ever win in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes magical run and truly historical season then came to an end when number three seed UCLA scored twice in the final six minutes of play to top Iowa 2-1.
Iowa head coach Dave Diiani summed up the significance of the season at the conclusion of the contest with UCLA when he stated, “That’s the most inspirational performance I’ve ever been a part of in my 18 years of being a head coach. Not just today, but the last three weeks. Playing with 17 totally healthy players, being the underdog and on the road against every team we have played. It has been a blessing to coach them during this run.” He added, “We will grow from this and come back better than ever.”
Siena – The Saints entered the spring 2021 season predicted to finish eighth in the eleven team MAAC in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Siena hoped to bounce back from a 4-11-4 overall record in 2019 during which they were 2-6-2 in conference play and didn’t qualify for the MAAC Tournament.
The Saints bounced back in a big way winning their first ever MAAC regular season title with a 4-0-1 record during which they played five contests in ten days due to an in-season COVID-19 pause. Siena then defeated Iona 3-0 and Rider 2-1 to advance to the championship match of the MAAC Tournament. The Saints then topped perennial MAAC powerhouse Monmouth in the championship contest via a penalty kick shootout to secure the program’s third MAAC Tournament Championship and their first since 2015. Sienna netminder Leslie Adams had 12 saves in the championship contest.
Siena’s banner season then came to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when they were defeated 4-0 by Arizona State out of the Pac-12 to conclude with a 6-1-2 record.
Steve Karbowski was named the MAAC Coach of the Year. Junior defender Brianna Montinard was honored as the MAAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and junior Leslie Adams was named the MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year. Junior midfielder Emily McNelis was named the MAAC Tournament MVP.
Karbowski stated, “It was a short season as far as the number of games, but it was the most full and complete season that we’ve ever had.”
Campbell – Campbell entered the spring season with their sights set on building on a 13-4-2 season that included an 8-1-1 mark in Big South play during which their season came to an end in the semifinals of the conference tournament for the fourth straight year.
Things didn’t look promising when the Camels began the season with a 1-3-0 record that included Big South Conference losses to High Point and Radford. However, Campbell rebounded to close out regular season play on a six match unbeaten steak to improve to 6-3-1 with a 6-2-1 mark in Big South play and entered the Big South Tournament as the number three seed behind High Point and Radford.
Campbell then topped number two seed Radford 3-1 to advance to the Big South Championship match for the first time since 2015 where they faced number one seed High Point. Campbell upset previously undefeated High Point 4-3 winning its first Big South Championship since 1993 to return to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2004 when they were a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Campbell’s season came to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with an 8-4-1 overall record when they were defeated by Iowa 1-0. Regardless, it was a momentum and confidence building season for a young Camel team that provides a springboard for continued success and growth.
Seven Campbell players earned a spot on the 2020-2021 All-Big South Conference team including first team members junior forward Jessica Donald, freshman midfielder Cazzi Norgren, and sophomore defender Laney Peabody.
Campbell head coach Samar Azem stated, This is just the beginning for us and I couldn’t be more thrilled about the future of this program and these players.”
Elon – Continual improvement. The Phoenix took a step forward in 2019 when they advanced to the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association for the first time since joining the CAA in 2014. Elon’s 2019 season ended in the CAA semifinals when they were defeated by Hofstra 3-1. Elon’s 12 wins in 2019 were the most they had recorded in a single season since their final season as a member of the Southern Conference in 2013.
The Phoenix completed regular season play in the spring of 2021 with a 3-1-0 record that secured a spot in the four team CAA Conference Tournament. Elon took a big forward when they upset three-time defending champion and nationally ranked Hofstra 1-0 in the tournament semifinals to advance to the CAA title match for the first time. It was Elon’s first ever win over Hofstra.
Elon faced a UNCW team in the championship match that had defeated them 3-1 during regular season play. The Phoenix reached yet another milestone when they topped the Seahawks 1-0 to claim their first ever CAA Championship and the program’s second berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Elon’s historic third season under head coach Neil Payne subsequently came to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when they were edged by Milwaukee 1-0.
Picture from Arizona State Athletics