CARY, N.C. -- The best season in the history of the Boston College women's soccer program ended without a goal in Friday's national semifinal against No. 1 Stanford. That it ended here at all, in a tense fight with the tournament's top seed in front of 8,323 fans at WakeMed Soccer Park and a national television audience, suggests the Eagles achieved a goal all the same.
Andy Mead/Icon SMIChelsea Regan and the Eagles capped the program's best season with a trip to their first College Cup.
After playing more than three hours of soccer against Stanford this season, first in an August draw and again in Friday's rematch, there is little doubt the best team moved on to play in Sunday's championship game. Stanford wasn't better by a lot, perhaps not even by as wide a margin as the 2-0 final, but it was better. It's just that there is equally little doubt that Boston College belonged on the field in its first College Cup.
"I thought tonight was one of the best women's soccer games that I've ever seen in my life -- two fantastic teams, two teams that like to attack, both extremely disciplined," Boston College coach Alison Foley said.
For much of the first half, it was difficult to make a case that either team had the edge in play. Boston College finished the first 45 minutes without an official shot, the first time all season it didn't record a shot in a half, while Stanford was credited with seven. But with the exception of perhaps the final 10 minutes before halftime, that was hardly an accurate reflection on the even nature of play. The Eagles escaped calamity a couple of times against Stanford All-American Christen Press, but they also endured their fair share of near-misses on passes that skipped just inches long of springing a player or runs that started half a beat too soon or too late.
"Give credit to Stanford for their defending, but sometimes chances aren't necessarily shots on goal," Foley said. "They're opportunities, created corner kicks, balls in behind the defense, so we created some different looks of dangerous attack."
Perhaps the biggest problem for Boston College in the first half and through much of a second half largely controlled by Stanford was an inability to put sophomore Kristie Mewis in position to harass the Cardinal like Press routinely harassed a back line that expended a lot of energy proving it was up to the task. A natural left-footer who loves playing on the left flank, Mewis played essentially the entire night, with the exception of a few moments in the game's dying minutes, on the right side, while senior Amy Caldwell and others who came off the bench played in Mewis' familiar spot on the left side.
By Foley's own assessment, Mewis possesses one of the best left-footed crosses in the world of women's soccer, college or otherwise, but she didn't get any chances to serve it Friday.
"Kristie's one of our most dangerous players up closer to goal, and Rachel Quon, their right back, attacks a lot," Foley said. "We didn't want to pull Kristie away from goal tracking her, so we had Amy, who can run all day, track Quon, and I thought Amy did a great job. Putting Kristie on the right allowed Kristie to be closer to goal and have more looks at goal."
It made sense tactically in that scenario, and indeed, Boston College was able to limit the impact of Quon, a starter alongside Mewis on the United States national team in the Under-20 World Cup last summer. But whether it was playing on the right, the defense of Stanford freshman Annie Case, the magnitude of the moment or merely the luck of the day, Mewis struggled to make an impact on the game herself. She got Boston College on the stat sheet with a shot on goal early in the second half, but it was a hopeful launch from about 30 yards away that only came after the Eagles lost track of Stanford's Camille Levin just long enough for her to make a run through midfield and fire a perfectly struck shot into the top corner of the goal from 18 yards in the 48th minute.
Mewis did eventually play a part in Boston College's best scoring chance. She got her head on an Alaina Beyar cross in the 78th minute and forced Stanford keeper Emily Oliver to make a save that left the ball sitting invitingly in open space to the right side of the goal. But after sprinting all out to reach the ball, senior Hannah Cerrone was unable to get her shot on frame, the ball slipping over the top of the crossbar and out of play. And with their ranks stretched and weary in pursuit of an equalizer, Boston College eventually surrendered a second goal in the 87th minute to seal the result.
But the disappointment of the moment shouldn't overshadow what came before, including the program's first win against ACC rival North Carolina, as well as what may come next. NSCAA first-team All-American Mewis and fourth-team All-American Victoria DiMartino return as juniors next season, while midfielder Julia Bouchelle, keeper Jillian Mastroianni and defenders Alaina Beyar and Alyssa Pember will constitute the core of a gifted senior class. The losses are notable, particularly Cerrone and Chelsea Regan, the co-captains who formed the right side of the back line, but Foley said she hopes this year's seniors leave a legacy of the kind of work ethic required to reach such heights.
On Thursday, as Foley prepared to meet with the media and players were shuttled around to television interviews, Boston College assistant Mike LaVigne stood and soaked in the scene in Cary. It was LaVigne who started the Division I program at Boston College and guided the team to the first NCAA tournament in 1982. Back then, long before any of the current Eagles were born, eight teams comprised the entire tournament field. The championship game's listed attendance was 1,000 and the attendance for the entire championship was 3,061 (Boston College lost to SUNY Cortland in the opening round). In fact, the attendance for the entire tournament was smaller in seven of its first eight seasons in existence than the crowd in Cary on Friday night.
As LaVigne noted, it was hard to believe how far things had come. Women's college soccer is more competitive than ever, but Boston College has the means to be more than a one-year wonder.
And whatever the scoreboard said Friday night, the result was the greatest season the program has ever known.
"It was a great experience," Cerrone said. "We can't be anything but proud of ourselves. We came in here and we said our only regret would have been if we played scared and if we let them come at us. I think, along with all the players on my team, we walked off the field knowing every single girl did her best."