COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The No. 21 (NSCAA) Aggie soccer team finished its final season in the Big 12 conference with a 16-6-2 record (6-1-1 Big 12), its 12th Big 12 title and a 17th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. The season jumped out to a rough start as the young team worked to find a rhythm, but the A&M soccer team found harmony as it cruised to yet another postseason appearance and a Big 12 Tournament Championship. The Aggie scoring offense consistently ranked among the top two in the country and the team ended the season with a national-best 76 goals.
The team's 10 freshmen made a major impact on the season - scoring 54 of the team's 76 goals - while 11 members of the 2010 squad, including seven starters, returned to lead the way and a group of four seniors bid their time at A&M farewell in the NCAA Second Round.
A newly-upgraded Ellis Field proved vital for the Aggies, who were 10-1-1 in front of the 12th Man. The Aggie Soccer Drumline returned to the stadium and took center stage on the west side at midfield, playing cadences to engage the crowd and encourage the players on the field.
The team started the season with a No. 11 national ranking, entering the home opener in the top 15 in the country for a 16th straight season. In the 2011 debut the Aggies defeated Fresno State, 4-2, on goals scored by a freshman-dominated pitch. After the victory over Fresno State, the Aggies are 14-1 when starting the season at home since 1993, and hold a 15-3 all-time first match mark.
The victory over Fresno State wasn't an omen of the coming week, however, as the Aggies suffered three straight losses to a talented Tennessee squad and a pair of nationally-ranked teams. A&M fell to No. 17 UC Irvine with a 1-0 shutout to close out the season-opening weekend at home, despite outshooting the Anteaters 21-to-5.
The Aggies then took their first road trip with high hopes, facing No. 7 Florida and Tennessee at the Lady Vols Classic in Knoxville, Tenn. A close match with Florida resulted in a 3-2 victory for the Gators and a penalty kick by Tennessee shoved the Lady Vols out to a 1-0 win to end the weekend. The three straight losses pushed the Aggies out of the national top 25 for the first time in 16 years. The team continued to receive votes, however, and later climbed back into the polls.
Two games on the home pitch was exactly what the doctor ordered for a frustrated Aggie squad after one of the roughest starts in program history. A resounding 3-0 shutout over Dartmouth in the first match of the weekend proved to the 4,887 fans in attendance for Fish Camp Night that this team had something to prove and the talent to prove it. With a new-found confidence, the Aggies rolled over McNeese State on Sunday with a 9-0 victory. Six A&M players scored goals, including freshman Annie Kunz who recorded her first collegiate hat trick. Freshman Shea Groom added a trio of assists for three points on the match.
A battle with two top-ten Atlantic Coast Conference foes proved to be the turning point of the season. In what would prove to be their biggest loss of the season, the Aggies dropped a 7-2 decision at No. 6 Duke in the opening match of the Duke Nike Classic in Durham, N.C. Two goals, by freshman Allie Bailey and senior Megan Majewski, tied the match with less-than three minutes left in the first period, but A&M couldn't restrain the Blue Devils in the second half and the season's rollercoaster ride seemed to continue.
With the season looking grim and No. 1 North Carolina looming just two days away in unfriendly territory, the Aggies knew that something had to change and that if anyone could beat 21-time national champion UNC, it was them. In what will surely be one of the most memorable, celebrated matches in A&M soccer history, the Aggies thwarted the top team in the country with a 4-3 overtime upset.
The team displayed a never-say-die attitude throughout the match, closing a 1-3 deficit to send the game into overtime. The golden goal by Groom in the 91st minute gave the Aggies their second-ever victory over the soccer powerhouse. It also marked a second time that the Tar Heels gave up three consecutive goals, and the first time for UNC to fall after leading by two goals or better.
The Aggies turned a new page with the victory heard 'round the country, just in time for Big 12 play to begin at Ellis Field the next weekend. In the team's conference opener against Baylor, A&M fought past the physical Bears and started the Big 12 season on a high note. Kunz netted the first goal of the match, with a header in the first half, before Baylor retaliated in the 66th minute. Junior Chelsea Jones headed the game winner with less-than two minutes left off of a cross by senior Merritt Mathias and the Aggies ended their first conference match in dramatic fashion.
A&M outscored opponents 21-2 in the next three matches at Ellis Field as the team began to mesh. The Aggies topped Fordham, 13-1 before going 2-0 in the Big 12 with a 3-1 victory over Iowa State a week later. Kunz recorded the second hat trick of her career in the blowout against Fordham and was joined by freshman Kelley Monogue, who also had three goals in that game. The weekend ended with a 5-0 shutout of Loyola-Chicago.
With an 8-4 overall record and a 2-0 conference mark, the Aggies traveled to the Midwest to take on Missouri and Kansas in a Big 12 road trip. The Tigers put the only blemish on the Aggies' close-to-perfect conference season with a 1-0 loss in Columbia, Mo.
On Sunday A&M traveled to Lawrence, Kan., and defeated the Jayhawks in its first conference shutout victory of the season. The 3-0 decision was the first time Kansas had ended up on the losing end of a shutout all season.
The Aggies' Big 12 road trip continued the next weekend with a trip to Lubbock to face Texas Tech. A&M also handed Tech a shutout in the form of a 2-0 victory in front a record crowd at the John Walker Soccer Complex.
The Aggies returned home happy and confident after their first conference trip of the season. The team would remain undefeated in its last six games of the regular season, starting with the match against Kansas. Five of the final six matches were against conference opponents.
A&M topped Drake, 6-1, in its final nonconference match of the season before sending Oklahoma home with a 3-0 shutout at Ellis Field. Monogue continued to shine in the spotlight as the No. 1 freshman in the country on TopDrawerSoccer.com Freshmen Top 100 List, scoring two goals against the Sooners en route to the Aggies' third consecutive conference shutout victory.
Two days later, No. 2 Oklahoma State entered Ellis Field with a regular-season conference championship on the line. The Aggies and Cowgirls played to a 0-0 draw in front of a national audience on ESPNU. Announcer Kate Markgraf later described both teams as having a "high-octane offense". Freshman Jordan Day came through in goal for the Aggies, making eight saves on the day. The Aggies had won the same game a year before to be guaranteed a share of the conference title.
A&M closed the regular season with a 3-0 victory at Texas in the State Farm Lone Star Showdown, earning a point for A&M in the rivalry and taking conference runner-up status behind OSU. The 22nd-ranked Aggies took a 6-1-1 conference mark in their last Big 12 season. Senior Bri Young scored the game-winning goal and contributed an assist against the Longhorns.
No. 2 seed A&M entered the Big 12 Tournament in San Antonio ready to finish a 16-year history with the conference on a high note. A&M is the only soccer team in Big 12 history to have reached the conference tournament every season and holds a 22-9-3 all-time record at the event, dating back to 1996.
In the quarterfinal match vs. No. 7 seed Kansas, the Aggies had to fight back from a 2-0 deficit in the 75th minute. The team scored three goals in five minutes against strong winds and driving rain on shots by Mathias, Kunz and Monogue. With the Aggies leading 3-2 and just three seconds left in regulation, Kansas netted an equalizer and shoved the game into golden-goal overtime. Two overtime periods lapsed and ensured that the advancing team would be decided on a best-of-five penalty kick shootout. Day saved the fourth ball by the Jayhawks before Mathias netted the fifth shot for A&M, sending the Aggies to the semifinal round of the tournament with a 5-3 shootout victory.
A&M took advantage of the chance to avenge their only conference loss during the regular season against Missouri in the Big 12 Tournament Semifinal. A 3-0 win over the Tigers did just that, and the Aggies advanced to the final round of the conference tournament. Mathias, Monogue and Kunz again scored goals for the Aggies.
The Aggies' last game as members of the Big 12 was a memorable one with a perfect outcome. Conference-leading and second-ranked OSU was determined to defeat A&M after settling for a 0-0 draw in the regular season. The teams battled for 89 minutes, combining for 24 shots with just seven on frame. With less-than fifteen seconds left in regulation, Monogue dribbled through three defenders and slammed a left-footed shot off of the left post. The ball ricocheted and landed near the feet of Megan Majewski, 15 yards from the goal. The senior midfielder fired again and passed the goalkeeper with the game-winning goal with just nine seconds to spare. The win gave the Aggies their 12th-and-final Big 12 Championship and granted them status as automatic qualifiers for the NCAA Tournament.
On Monday, Nov. 6, just one day after being crowned the 2011 Big 12 Tournament Champions, the Aggies learned their postseason fate through the NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Selection Show. The Aggies would take the No. 3 seed and host Louisiana State at Ellis Field that Friday in the NCAA First Round, joining No. 1 seed Florida State, No. 2 seed Virginia and No. 4 seed Memphis in the regional bracket. A&M was chosen by selection show co-host Jenn Hildreth to win the region and advance to the College Cup because of big regular-season and conference tournament victories over No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Oklahoma State. "Texas A&M - they win big games," Hildreth said.
The Aggies gave LSU no choice, advancing after a 4-0 blowout in College Station. Junior Nora Skelton netted the first goal of the match in the ninth minute before three second-half goals by A&M secured the win. Junior Beth West assisted Skelton's goal and contributed two more assists, in the shape of corner kicks in a two-minute window, on the match.
Wins by No. 2 UVA and Virginia Tech on the East coast meant that A&M would travel to Charlottesville, Va. to play the Hokies the next weekend. In a heartbreaking loss the Aggies' season ended the same as it had a year ago, in the NCAA Second Round. Virginia Tech took a 2-0 first-half lead and scored a third goal in the 71st minute. The Aggies got their feet under them after the final goal by the Hokies and answered with an A&M goal a minute later to narrow the scoring deficit to 1-3, but the Aggies couldn't stop the bleeding as VT advanced to the NCAA Third Round with a 3-1 victory.
The 2011 season marked a 17th consecutive trip the NCAA Tournament for the Aggies, who now own 12 Big 12 Championships under Guerrieri's tutelage and ended the season ranked 12th in RPI standings. The young team graduates four seniors and will welcome a large crop of returning letterwinners and starters in 2012.