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TCU Soccer: Reviewing a historical season

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The Horned Frogs created countless program-firsts and broke several records throughout their Big 12 championship season.

Photo courtesy of @TCUSoccer on Twitter

Despite TCU Soccer’s season ending in the elite 8 of the NCAA Championship Tournament, the 2020/2021 squad gave their all for the entirety of the abnormal 240 day-long season breaking countless records and creating numerous program-firsts along the way.

Overtime thrillers, late-game comebacks, penalty kick shootouts; the 2020/2021 season had it all. With a 12-2-2 overall record and nine clean sheets on the year, the Horned Frogs made a statement.

Considering a dreadful summer full of just about zero TCU sporting events is upon us, I couldn’t think of a better time to reminisce on a sensational year while simultaneously looking forward to what could be next fall. Without further adieu:

A historical year in review

The Horned Frogs were one of the most dominant teams in the country throughout the regular season, well, throughout both of them I suppose. After opening the season with a 0-0 draw against Baylor, TCU went on to win 10 consecutive games outscoring their opponents 21-3 during that run.

Before eventually falling to Texas A&M 1-0 on the road, the Horned Frogs peaked at no. 3 in the United Soccer Coaches poll - the highest ranking in program history. In the grand scheme of things, losing to a non-conference opponent wasn’t necessarily a do or die situation as the Frogs still went on to claim their first ever regular season Big 12 title with a 8-0-1 conference record.

Seeing TCU up there alongside perennial powerhouse programs such as Florida State and North Carolina in the rankings was a beautiful sight, and it’s something I believe Horned Frog fans can expect for years to come.

Don’t get it twisted, as iconic and legendary as this past season was, this was not a one time thing. Head Coach Eric Bell has turned this program into NCAA tournament regulars. The Horned Frogs are one of only 16 programs nationwide to have qualified for the past five NCAA Tournaments and were finally able to get over that second-round hump this year.

For further context, before coach Bell’s arrival the Frogs had only finished with two winning seasons in the previous 11 years (2001-2011). Now with Bell at the helm, TCU has posted five consecutive winning seasons featuring double-digit win totals in each of them.

If collegiate women’s soccer programs had stock, I’m all in on the Horned Frogs. This program has been trending upward throughout the past few seasons and with the current coaching staff and young core of athletes, the sky’s the limit for this group.

As I mentioned before, the Frogs have made five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances though never found much success until this year. Before this season, TCU made it past the first round only once out of their previous four attempts. With an overall tournament record of 1-4, the Frogs came into this year’s competition with something to prove.

Despite earning the first national seed in program history (no. 4), the Frogs path to the final four was far from easy. TCU’s first round matchup was an old foe - the New Mexico Lobos.

After a sluggish first half, the Frogs found themselves trailing 1-0. The second half was a completely different ballgame as TCU went on to thrash the Lobos 6-1 in the final 45, putting on an offensive explosion unlike anything I’ve seen in any level of soccer let alone collegiate soccer.

Round two brought a different challenge as the Frogs faced one of collegiate soccer’s blue chip programs in Georgetown. Before the second round matchup, the Hoyas held an all-time tournament record of 13-8-4 after 10 appearances, including FOUR trips to the Sweet 16 and two trips to the College Cup in 2016 and 2018. In other words, the Frogs were matched up against one of the big dogs.

It was a hard-fought battle for all 90 minutes and both halves of overtime, but eventually the Frogs found their season in the hands of senior goalkeeper Emily Alvarado for a penalty kick shootout. After an unfortunate weather delay that began moments after the final whistle blew, TCU dominated the PK shootout winning 3-1 thanks to not one, but TWO saves from Alvarado.

This victory earned the Horned Frogs their first ever Elite 8 appearance where they would take on the Virginia Cavaliers. Unfortunately, this would be the last hoorah for the Frogs as they fell 1-0 in a hard-fought battle against yet another blue blood program bringing their final record to 12-2-2 on the year.

Despite ending the season on a loss, with the direction this program is headed, TCU will be one of the blue bloods, the top dogs, a perennial powerhouse, or any other alpha terminology you can think of, in no time.

Looking at the amount of accolades the Frogs pulled in this year, you would think they’ve been a top-ranked team for decades. Seriously, the Horned Frogs had so many player of the week winners, Big 12 team of the year honorees, and other first-team recognitions that it’s hard to keep count.

Accolades

Starting out with the conference awards, TCU dominated the Big 12 awards night taking home four of the five “of the year” nominations. Sophomore Grace Collins was awarded Big 12 player of the year after a sensational 8-goal season becoming the first Horned Frog to win the award, Emily Alvarado earned the goalkeeper of the year award and Marz Akins took home the freshmen of the year. The athletes aren’t the only ones to earn some hardware as Eric Bell was awarded the Big 12 coach of the year.

The Frogs claimed four of the eleven available spots as Emily Alvarado, Brandi Peterson, Yazmeen Ryan and Grace Collins were awarded with All-Big 12 first team selections. Messiah Bright earned an All-Big 12 second team nod while Marz Akins and Olivia Hasler found themselves on the All-Big 12 all-freshman team.

Aside from the conference awards, TCU Soccer had a school-record FIVE athletes voted into the United Soccer Coaches All-Midwest Region team. Emily Alvarado, Yazmeen Ryan, Grace Collins and Brandi Peterson were selected to the region’s first team and Messiah Bright earned a second team nod. On top of that, the Horned Frogs’ coaching staff also claimed the Midwest-Region Staff of the year.

This feels somewhat repetitive at this point, but the talented quartet of Alvarado, Ryan, Collins and Akins all earned Top Draw Soccer Best XI recognition to go along with their all-conference selections.

I saved the best for last, of course, as TCU Soccer had their first, second and third All-American athletes in program history this past season. Yazmeen Ryan (1st team), Emily Alvarado (1st team) and Grace Collins (2nd team) have opened a new chapter in the TCU Soccer history books.

End of an era

Of course with the end of a season comes the end of an era for some all-time great TCU Horned Frogs.

Seniors Emily Alvarado, Yazmeen Ryan, and Tijana Duricek all played a major part in the Horned Frogs recent success and are without a doubt leaving this program better than when they first arrived.

Alvarado ended her career in the purple and white as the all-time leader in shutouts with 21 combined and 8 this past season alone. In 2020/2021 she maintained a 0.54 goals against average and an incredible .875 save percentage making her one of the top goalkeepers nationwide just about any way you look at it.

Yazmeen Ryan will go down as an all-time great in the annals of TCU sports folklore. She came, she dominated, and then she went on to become the highest draft pick in TCU Soccer history, being selected 6th overall by the Portland Thorns.

Ryan is a four-time All-Big 12 honoree and four-time All-Midwest Region selection. She is TCU’s all-time leader in assists (23), ranks fifth in all-time goals (23) and third in all-time points (69). The future NWSL star tallied 7 goals and 6 assists this season and led the Frogs with 20 points.

Tijana Duricek has been a rock in the Horned Frogs back line ever since her arrival in 2017. She has earned multiple First Team Academic All-Big 12 honors including a Big 12 All-Freshman Team nod in 2017.

Despite finishing her senior year at TCU, Duricek will stay on board with the Frogs as a graduate student in the fall.

On to the next

While one chapter ends, a new era of TCU Soccer is set to begin as the Frogs secured the no. 8 ranked recruiting class in the country this offseason, according to TopDrawSoccer.

Six new student-athletes will be suiting up in the purple and white this season including Jacqueline Barnes, Brenna Brosam, Paige Crews (Payton Crews’s sister), Camryn Lancaster, Lauren Memoly and Olivia Pena.

Half of the 2021 signees were ranked in the top 100 nationwide including two in the top 40 (Memoly & Pena). Even throughout the regular season, coach Bell was always keen on finding ways to get better and this coaching staff went out and found a way to make an already skillfully-deep team even better.

I would be lying to you if I said my women’s high school soccer knowledge was up to par with the Frogs’ recruiting coordinators and scouts, but from what I’ve seen and read the 2021 class could have a major impact on the program when it’s all said and done. This group is legit.

We won’t know exactly how these soon-to-be freshmen will fit into the Horned Frogs tactical schemes quite yet, but I have no doubts in my mind coach Bell will find a way to make it work.

Two new defenders, two new midfielders, and two new forwards - a perfect balance.

“This is a very talented class that addresses all of our needs,” said Bell. “This class continues the trend in identifying student athletes that will continue to make the training environment super competitive. Hats off to Ryan Higginbotham and Tom Serratore for their tireless efforts in the recruitment of this class.”

The new-look 2021 Horned Frogs will make their season debut on August 19th, opening with a road game at Stephen F. Austin. The home opener is just three days later as the Frogs take on a familiar opponent, Texas A&M, on August 22nd in Garvey-Rosenthal Stadium.

A&M and Pepperdine headline the Frogs’ non-conference schedule while the same-old same-old can be expected in conference play.

Not only is the season starting on time this year, but the entirety of the 2021 season including the Big 12 championships will be completed prior to the Thanksgiving break. I’ll be the first one to say it - thank god.

Of course it’s all fun and games having matches to look forward to year round from a fan’s perspective, but one could only imagine how last season’s semantics affected the athlete’s wellbeing and performance. There wasn’t an official “bubble” until the NCAA Tournament, but 2020 was certainly a bubble-esque year.

As we have learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing is set in stone, but as of now the 2021 season will consist of a full 18-game schedule leading into the Big 12 and NCAA Championship Tournaments in November.

Until then, the Horned Frogs will be grinding on the training grounds as per usual. See you all at Garvey-Rosenthal Stadium August 22nd for the beginning of a new chapter in TCU Soccer!