Two words quickly spring to mind when attempting to sum up the 2016 college soccer season: unfamiliar and unpredictable. From the U-20 Women’s World Cup taking a couple dozen of the top U.S. players out of the mix, to the College Cup moving from Orlando, to Cary, NC and then to San Jose, it seemed as though so much was up in the air this season. In end, none of the four teams to make it to the final weekend were there the previous year, a rare occurrence since the NCAA tournament started 34 years ago.
If there’s one thing that seems certain, it’s that 2016 was a banner year for Canadians in college soccer aside from Blue Devil Rebecca Quinn’s season-ending injury. To be sure, West Virginia came up just short, losing to Southern California in the championship game, but the Mountaineers and our neighbors to the north dominated the headlines in 2016.
For the first time in program history, West Virginia, with a total of seven Canadians including seniors and full team stalwarts Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence, earned both a number one seed in the NCAA tournament and the number one ranking in the NSCAA coaches’ poll. Lawrence and Buchanan were also named first team All-Americans and Buchanan, a four-time All-American honoree, is a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy for the second year in a row.
The team’s defensive dominance silenced so many of their opponents as the team’s backline, more often than not, was comprised entirely of Canadians. Throughout the year, the Mountaineers limited their opponents to just 2.7 shot on target a contest.
On the other side of the country, another Canadian was grabbing headlines–UCLA freshman Jessie Fleming. Fleming hit the ground running in Westwood, generating highlight worthy plays seemingly every time she touched the ball. She scored twice in her debut against Florida but the goals weren’t even the real highlight. This stellar technical display was.
— UCLA Women’s Soccer (@UCLAWSoccer) August 28, 2016
On a cold, snow-covered day in November, the third team All-American Fleming, just starting her collegiate career, faced off against Lawrence and Buchanan, who were aiming to cap their collegiate careers with a national title. In the conditions, generating goals proved difficult. A 23rd-minute strike from Sh’Nia Gordon looked to cement a Mountaineers victory until Fleming headed in a cross with less than two minutes in the game. The game would continue through two overtime periods and require penalties to decide.
Buchanan was the last penalty kick shooter that day. She stepped up to the line for West Virginia, converted and clinched the Mountaineers spot in the quarterfinals. Lawrence, who went two shooters before Buchanan, converted as well. Fleming didn’t fare as well on her try for the Bruins.
Looking back at the season, this game will be remembered as one in which the best and brightest young stars Canada faced battled it out in unforgiving weather conditions. The play of one young Canadian, Fleming, helped another, Buchanan, further add to her legacy as a Mountaineer. On January 6, we will see if Buchanan’s legacy will grow once more as she looks to become the second Canadian to win college soccer’s highest honor (Christine Sinclair, 2005).
Other Highlights of the Season:
Goal of the Year:
This bicycle in overtime by Carrie Madden sent the Marquette Golden Eagles to the Big East title game. The Golden Eagles fell to the Georgetown Hoyas in the title game but Madden’s goal earned top honors on ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top Ten for the day.
WATCH: Carrie Madden’s amazing match winner in OT https://t.co/rxJSVDvrsV
— MARQUETTE Soccer (@MUWomensSoccer) November 4, 2016
Save of the Year:
North Carolina’s Lindsey Harris made a ton of noteworthy saves for Tar Heels in a year, in fact, she made more saves than any other Tar Heels keeper in the program’s storied history. In truth, in a season unlike any other for North Carolina, it took a heroic effort by Harris to get the Tar Heels to their 27th final four appearance. This penalty kick save that would have tied the game against South Carolina 1-1 in the quarterfinals was arguably the biggest she made all season. North Carolina went on to win 1-0.
— NCAA Soccer (@NCAASoccer) November 26, 2016
Feel-Good Story of the Year
You’d be forgiven if you only paid attention to the power five conferences in women’s soccer. If you do, you probably missed this story. Prior to the 2016 season starting, Dayton’s Mike Tucker announced that his 22nd season at the helm of the Flyers would be his last. It looked like the season would not be one to remember for Tucker, who had earned nine conference titles during his tenure. Dayton was three games below .500 heading into the conference championship. The path to a tenth conference title would be arduous. The Flyers, a good team that just wasn’t get results previously, went on a tear, winning its three conference championship matches by a score of 12-0. In the title game, the Flyers demolished the number one seed St. Joseph 7-0. Dayton then gave Ohio State quite a game in the first round of the NCAA tournament ultimately conceded twice after taking a one-goal lead. Nonetheless, winning a conference championship is a fantastic way to see a long-time coach out. Although having your own bobblehead is a pretty cool too.