It’s tourney time! The nationally-seeded TCU Soccer team has arrived in North Carolina in preparation for an atypical, bubble style NCAA Division I championship tournament where they will take on the New Mexico Lobos in the second round this evening at 5 p.m. CST.
Whereas the tournament typically hosts a 64-team field, this year’s bracket has been altered due to the coronavirus pandemic, making 2021’s tournament a 48-team field. Regardless of how many teams there are, the Horned Frogs have earned the No. 4 national seed and a first-round bye in the tournament alongside some of collegiate soccer’s blue blood programs — No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 North Carolina, and No. 3 UCLA.
With an 11-1-1 regular season record (including a school record 11-game unbeaten run), three wins against top-10 opponents, and a Big 12 regular season title, the Horned Frogs have already made a solid case to be considered one of the “giants” in women’s soccer right now.
It’s not every year these athletes play half of their season, take a few months off, and then come back for a second half of the season, but some Horned Frogs began to appreciate the unorthodox format.
“[The Schedule] Was definitely unusual, but it allowed for us to focus on one championship at a time. Big 12 in the fall and the national championship in the spring,” said senior midfielder Yazmeen Ryan.
The Frogs are no newcomers to the postseason as this year marks the fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for head coach Eric Bell and TCU, one of only 16 programs in the country to qualify for the last five tournaments.
Despite consistently qualifying, the Frogs have never found any true success in the postseason. Since 2016, TCU has a 1-4 record in the NCAA tournament with their lone win coming against BYU in 2018 (2-1) before falling to Texas A&M in the second round (2-0).
“We want to be regarded as one of the best programs in the country, and in order to do that you have to be consistent in making the NCAA tournament every year,” said Bell. “We’ve done that, so now the next step is making a run.”
The Horned Frogs tournament run begins against an old foe: New Mexico. The Lobos have put together an impressive campaign posting a 10-1 regular season record and winning the Mountain West conference title. New Mexico has already advanced into the second round of the tournament after defeating Navy 1-1 (4-2) in penalty kicks on Tuesday.
Whereas the Frogs have “been there, done that” recently, this marks New Mexico’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011. The all-time series between the Frogs and Lobos dates back to 1993, just seven years after TCU’s program was created, with New Mexico leading 7-3-3.
In a presser leading up to the tournament, Coach Bell expressed his excitement and sense of nostalgia for this matchup considering the last time these teams met was also Bell’s first game at the helm back in 2012 (ended in a 1-1 draw).
A lot has changed in the last nine years, as now the Horned Frogs have some of the biggest stars in the Big 12, if not the country. TCU will be led onto the field by a record-breaking duo of seniors in Yazmeen Ryan and Emily Alvarado, who have both had incredible campaigns, respectively.
If you haven’t heard by now I’m concerned you may be living under a rock, but Yazmeen Ryan became the highest overall draft pick in program history after being selected 6th overall by the Portland Thorns in the NWSL draft. She earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors this season after posting seven goals and three assists this campaign. Ryan has already etched her name in TCU history, as the midfielder currently sits second on the all-time assist list with 20, and fifth in all-time goals with 23 after scoring against Notre Dame to finish the regular season, but winning a national championship would top any individual accolade.
“It gets me more motivated and fired up knowing this is my last time playing with this team and being around these girls,” said Ryan. “It kicks me into another gear knowing we have an opportunity to win the biggest trophy in college soccer.”
I could talk about the Frogs’ star-studded forwards and midfielders all day, but the heart and soul of the team this season has been the defense led by goalkeeper Emily Alvarado.
With nine shutouts and only five goals allowed through thirteen games, I’d say that’s pretty darn good. As impenetrable as the Frogs back line may seem, Coach Bell said that the defensive success is a complete team effort that starts with the forwards.
“The backline hasn’t really been tested because we have the ball. If we keep the ball from their offense, they can’t score,” said Bell.
So what you’re telling me is if TCU has the ball the entire game… the opponent can never score? Seems simple enough to me.
Of course on the rare occasion that a ball slips through the back line of Brandi Peterson, Marz Akins, Tijana Duricek and Chaylyn Hubbard — the Big 12 Goalkeeper of the Year Emily Alvarado is there to, quite literally, save the day. Alvarado also earned a First-team All-Big 12 nod after posting 49 saves this season and racking up eight clean sheets to go along with her program-record 21 throughout her career.
I could go on and on about each and every athlete on this team explaining why they are special and why they bring value to the unit as a whole, but all you really need to know is that this Horned Frogs team is like no other.
Eric Bell has created a truly unique culture within the program just in time to make a postseason run with some of the best athletes in TCU Soccer history. The Frogs’ 2021 postseason kicks off on Gillette Field #1 in Wilson, North Carolina to take on New Mexico at 5 p.m. CST.
For some ridiculous, unknown reason the games aren’t being broadcasted on TV, but Frog fans can still catch the game via a livestream hosted on Vimeo (that link should take you there).
If for some reason you still aren’t fired up for this matchup, I’ll leave you with this fiery quote from Yazmeen Ryan when asked about preparing for the trip to North Carolina: “I packed three bags because I’m here to stay, we’re all here to stay.”