A look back at the 2007 season
So the season has officially wrapped, and heavy favorite Wake Forest has laid claim to the NCAA title. The fact that the Demon Deacons finished the year on top might not be a huge surprise -- everyone had them tabbed as a top team in the preseason -- but their success could definitely be considered an anomaly since everything else pretty much went contrary to what was expected this season.
Ohio State -- The Buckeyes had the national title within reach before Wake Forest's two late-game goals put the team away. It's going to be a long winter in Columbus, but Ohio State has definitely raised its profile when it comes to the national soccer scene.
Sure, they'll still have to share the attention with "an all right football team [that] kind of takes most of the credit for everything," as forward Andrew Magill jokingly put it, but expect things to change for the better with regard to the program. Case in point, even this past offseason when making recruiting calls, coach John Bluem would hear, "You guys have soccer at Ohio State?" It's unlikely he'll encounter that this time around.
Bradley -- The Braves' incredible tournament run was overshadowed by another Cinderella story as UMass managed to make it just one step further and secure a berth in the College Cup. However, the Braves faced one of the toughest, if not the toughest, tournament schedules. The team took down Big East challenger DePaul in the first round, ended Big Ten powerhouse Indiana's season on PKs in the second and beat perennial ACC contender Maryland in double overtime in the Sweet Sixteen, before falling to Ohio State in their NCAA quarterfinal match.
The team set a record with 16 wins and went undefeated in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time in school history. But what made their successes all the more impressive was how they accomplished so much in the face of off-the-field adversity. The team lost sophomore Danny Dahlquist in a fire just days before the season started, and three other Bradley players were charged in the fire -- a prank gone wrong -- that resulted in his death. Even in the face of tragedy, Bradley's soccer team found a way to carry on and turn what many would have been excused as a lost season into the best the program has ever had.
California (as a collective) -- A year ago, it was an all-Golden State final as UC Santa Barbara bested UCLA for the national championship. Add another pair of in-state teams -- Cal and Santa Clara -- in the Sweet Sixteen, and West Coast soccer fans were once again claiming their dominance and lamenting the fact that their teams were overlooked in favor of teams from conferences such as the Big East and ACC.
However, UCLA all but dropped from the national radar this season, going just 9-9-3, despite returning nine starters and 22 letter winners from 2006. UCSB and Santa Clara made repeat appearances in the Sweet Sixteen, but neither the defending national champ nor the team that spent most of this season in the top five were able to advance any further.
Boston College -- The Eagles may have lost their first game in the NCAA Tournament, but the team deserves at least some recognition for their regular-season success.
Many wondered what 2007 would hold for Boston College after star forward Charlie Davies (the 2006 ACC Offensive Player of the Year and a M.A.C. Hermann finalist) left school early to sign with Swedish club Hammarby IF. External preseason expectations certainly weren't high as ACC coaches picked the team to finish seventh in conference play. But the Eagles powered their way through the ACC, winning the regular-season conference title and the conference tournament to earn the No. 1 seed heading into the NCAA Tournament. True, what happened there put a damper on the tone of the season as a whole, but it didn't undo all of the team's accomplishments this year.
What's next? -- The biggest story line of 2007 just might be its unpredictability. No one could have projected how the NCAA Tournament bracket would shake out -- anyone who claims otherwise is lying. Duke and UCLA all but fell off the map in a year when it was expected they would shine. Many of the teams at the center of last year's biggest story lines made hardly a blip this time around. So the question becomes: Will we think twice about BC, Bradley, Ohio State or UMass next year, or will they be distant memories as we turn our attention elsewhere?
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.