Soccer commentary: A season of firsts


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Just under a month ago, the Iowa soccer program was in a completely different situation.

The Hawkeyes had never beat Penn State in the program’s history, never won more than 13 games in a season, never won a postseason match, and never earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

That now seems like a distant memory.

In 21 days, from Oct. 25 to Nov. 15, the Iowa soccer team defeated Penn State twice, won 15 games to accumulate the most wins in program history, won two postseason games to advance to the championship match of the Big Ten Tournament, and earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Since he took the helm in 2006, a lot has changed in the Iowa soccer program under head coach Ron Rainey. But this team was by far the most exciting, successful, and impressive squad he has ever coached.

Even though the season ended with a 4-1 loss at the hands of a much more NCAA Tournament-experienced team in No. 23 Notre Dame, this season as a whole could be considered a win for the Iowa soccer program.

The Hawkeyes were defined all season by their defense. The defense kept them in every game, and the defense carried the team in the postseason.

The goal of any team in any sport is to be playing its best when postseason play comes around. This was the case with the Hawkeyes. Before their loss the Notre Dame, the Hawkeyes had only given up 1 goal in their three postseason games.

What’s even more impressive is that these three teams were No. 11 Michigan, No. 24 Penn State, and No. 10 Nebraska.

These games — and the team itself — embodied Rainey’s coaching style. As they had in almost all of their wins this season, the Hawks were able to score an early goal, bring a couple players into the back half of the field, and let their defense do the rest of the work.

This is how Rainey has coached, and it will likely be how he coaches for the foreseeable future. Which brings us to next year’s team.

The Hawkeyes will lose only two seniors — midfielder Alex Melin and forward Ashley Catrell. But those are two big losses.

Melin — a four-year starner — has been one of the most integral aspects of the Iowa defense in her years for the Black and Gold. But what may be missed most is her leadership. As a four year starter, Melin was always one of the toughest and most vocal players on the field, something that’s needed to play in the Big Ten conference.

The other departure’s effect will be felt more on the offensive end of the field. Catrell was third on the team in points and over the past two seasons became one of the team’s top goal scorers.

Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, Bri Toelle emerged in the latter portion of Iowa’s schedule to score 4 goals for the Hawkeyes. With her minutes likely to increase next season, expect her to become an even more integral aspect of this team — just as Catrell did two years ago.

Despite these losses, next year’s Hawkeyes will return 71 of their 96 points from this season’s squad that accomplished so many firsts for the Iowa program.

With the core group of players returning next year, it’s not too crazy to think that Iowa may make another first for the program — an NCAA Tournament win.

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