Boston College women’s soccer lost McKenzie Meehan and Hayley Dowd—the program’s top two all-time leading scorers, who accounted for 46.3 percent of the team’s total goals during their final year on the Heights—to graduation in June 2016 and still improved this past fall. If anything, the absence of the superstar forwards was what jumpstarted the Eagles’ return to the ACC Tournament.
In August, head coach Alison Foley and even some of her players admitted that they were too complacent the season prior. BC stormed out of the gates, preserving a perfect record throughout the first month of the 2016 campaign. Not only did the Eagles go undefeated in non-conference play, but they did so in dominant fashion. Led by Meehan and Dowd, BC outscored its opponents, 25-6, recording five shutouts along the way—three of which were consecutive. The problem was, the blowouts were simply masking the Eagles’ weaknesses. When their ACC opener rolled around, everything started to go downhill.
BC—at one point 9-0-1—dropped seven of its 10 conference matches and missed the ACC Tournament for the third-straight season. So when the Eagles lost two of their first three games this past season, Foley was actually happy—not because her team was 1-2, but because the slow start gave everyone the chance to shore up rotational and schematic errors before they faced off against the ACC’s best. Featuring a more balanced and youthful offensive attack, the Eagles quickly rattled off six victories and, soon enough, held their own against conference opponents, winning four matches against the likes of Louisville, Wake Forest, Miami, and Pittsburgh—just enough to clinch BC’s (10-9-1, 4-5-1 Atlantic Coast) first ACC Tournament appearance in four years.
Best Moment: Clinching First ACC Tournament Berth Since 2013
Historically, the Eagles have had Pittsburgh’s number. In fact, entering the Oct. 26 matchup, they had defeated the Panthers in each of the previous four seasons by a combined nine goals. The 2017 regular season finale was a whole lot closer, but the result was practically identical—a 3-2 BC victory, one that sent the team back to the conference tournament for the first time since 2013.
Thanks to Jenna Bike and Lauren Berman, the Eagles closed out the opening half with a 2-1 advantage. From that point forward, all that was left was for goalkeeper Alexis Bryant and her backline to hold down the fort. That was, until Vildan Kardesier tucked a shot underneath the crossbar from 24 yards out with just six minutes remaining in regulation. Pittsburgh’s equalizer forced a pair of overtime periods. Needing all three points to secure a spot in the eight-team ACC Tournament field, BC elevated its play in the final frame. From the corner, Sam Coffey lofted a ball far post, and Gianna Mitchell leapt just in time to head the cross into the back of the net. The goal marked the defender’s third scoring play of the season, not to mention her second game-winner of her freshman campaign. As soon as the Eagles found out that they had leapfrogged both Louisville and Clemson—who lost to North Carolina State and tied Florida State, respectively—in the ACC standings, they erupted in celebration.
— BC Women's Soccer (@BC_WSOC) October 27, 2017
Worst Moment: Postseason Chances Jeopardized With Loss to UVA
After winning nine of its first 15 matches, BC lost three in a row, severely threatening its postseason chances. The Eagles’ 2-1 loss to then-No. 12 Virginia on Oct. 22 was the worst of the three-game skid. For the first time in about a month, BC got on the board before its opponent. The Eagles only recorded one shot on goal the entire game, and they made it count: In the 51st minute, Coffey aired a long ball over the Cavalier defense, setting up Bike for a far-post goal, the sophomore’s fifth of the season.
For a moment, it appeared as if the scoring play was just the start of a game-changing sequence. It was only a matter of minutes before Carly Leipzig found the back of the net. The problem was, she was offsides—at least according to the referee. As a result, the goal was overturned and, in due time, the Eagles conceded the equalizer. Then, in the 77th minute, UVA distanced itself from BC with an eight-yard strike, courtesy of Montana Sutton. BC failed to retaliate and watched its once formidable record near mediocrity. Following the game, Foley was noticeably on edge.
“We had a lot to overcome this year,” the 21-year coach told BCEagles.com. “These kids deserve a postseason. We earned that second goal, and it wasn’t offside. UVA would have never come back from a 2-0 deficit.”
Luckily for the Eagles, they got that postseason berth. It just came four days later than expected.
Offensive MVP: Lauren Berman
Lauren Berman found herself in a unique situation. A redshirt senior, the captain was significantly older than the vast majority of the team’s underclassmen-heavy roster. In a way, she was both the mentor and the mentee, teaching and learning from a new generation of playmakers. Berman flourished, racking up a career-high 17 points, just three shy of the team lead. Right from the get-go, the 5-foot-3 forward was at the forefront of the Eagles’ attack. In the season opener, she scored the game-winning goal off an overtime penalty kick to upend James Madison. That performance set the stage for her seven-goal, three-assist campaign—one that culminated in the redshirt senior topping BC’s goal scoring chart and earning the team’s MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards.
Defensive MVP: Gianna Mitchell
Although difficult, replacing Meehan and Dowd was doable, especially with the speedy duo of Olivia Vaughn and Jenna Bike racing across the top of the field, night in and night out. The backline, on the other hand, was a different story. Following the 2016 season, Foley lost one of her best defenders—Samantha Hiatt—to the transfer market. As a whole, the entire unit went through a transformation of sorts. Prior to August, captain Allyson Swaby and senior Madison Kenny were the only two starting Eagle defenders to have worn a BC uniform. It wasn’t long before the newcomers settled in—and one in particular established herself as one of the backline’s finest. Using her 5-foot-10 frame, Gianna Mitchell frequently challenged attackers and cleared the ball with ease. She was also a force to be reckoned with on the offensive side of the field. The Springfield, Mass. native, who averaged over 84.9 minutes per contest and started every game of the season, logged three goals in her rookie campaign—including the double-overtime game-winner at Pittsburgh that clinched BC’s ACC Tournament berth.
Breakout Player: Sam Coffey
After Vaughn and Bike recorded a combined 21 points as freshmen, many expected the forwards to lead the team in scoring in 2017. While they certainly improved, tallying 11 goals and 24 points between the two of them, they weren’t necessarily the talk of the offense. For one thing, Berman headed the Eagles’ scoring attack. But, perhaps even more surprisingly, Coffey distanced herself from the rest of the team in total points. Just a freshman, the midfielder notched five goals and a whopping 10 assists.
It all started back on Aug. 27 against Colgate. Coffey scored the first goal of her collegiate career and tacked on three assists—becoming the sixth player in program history to log that many in a game. There came a point when the freshman took over the team’s corner-kick duties, often creating scoring opportunities on a game-to-game basis. When all was said and done, Coffey etched her name into the scoring card on four separate occasions, en route to All-ACC Third Team and All-ACC Freshman honors. Her rapid ascent didn’t stop there—on Jan. 10, the freshman was one of 20 players named to the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team for the CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) Championship in Trinidad and Tobago. In just one year, Coffey emerged as the foundation of the Eagles’ offense.
Play of the Year: Coffey’s Corner-Kick Goal at Miami
On Oct. 8, Miami capitalized on a seventh-minute penalty kick and jumped out to a 1-0 lead. In no time—nine minutes to be exact—Coffey took it upon herself to equalize the match. From the left side of the pitch, the freshman bent a corner kick toward the far post. After curling for a couple of seconds, the ball ricocheted off the pipe and into the back of the cage. The goal garnered national attention. Within hours, the NCAA’s Twitter page uploaded the video of the scoring play. Additionally, it paved the way for BC’s three-goal scoring spurt—one that propelled the Eagles to victory in Coral Gables, Fla.
— NCAA Soccer (@NCAASoccer) October 9, 2017
At times, BC looked like an NCAA Tournament team. Upping the ante, game by game, the Eagles turned a slow start into one of their better seasons in recent memory. Losers of two of its first three games, BC rallied to win six of its next seven matches, all while outscoring its opponents, 16-3. Eventually, though, the team hit a bump in the road and stomached three-straight ACC losses—a stretch that threatened the team’s postseason chances. But the Eagles bounced back, just like they did at the beginning of non-conference play, edging Pittsburgh in double overtime to book their ticket to the conference tournament. Although BC’s postseason was cut short by a Duke program that ultimately ended up playing in the Final Four, the appearance itself was a vote of a confidence for one of the younger teams in the ACC.
The Eagles will be returning six of their top seven leading scorers and the majority of their backline. Both Gaby Carreiro and Jade Ruiters—midfielders who missed the 2017 campaign with knee injuries—will likely find their way back into the lineup as well. Before this season, BC was amid a four-year ACC Tournament drought. The next step is getting back to The Dance, a tournament that used to be all but built into the Eagles’ schedule.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor