The women’s soccer team ended up having yet another successful season. With major wins, a second round exit in the NCAA tournament and players making National Teams, what is the team’s key to success and what comes next?
Coached by Brooks Monaghan since 2000, the Tigers concluded the 2021 season with 14 wins, five losses and two ties.
“We had a very good season. Obviously we won our conference championship and were ranked as high as 14th in the country,” Monaghan said.
The team had major wins against Southeast Missouri State (SEMO), University of Arkansas Pine Bluff (UAPB), Alabama, Temple, Kansas, Southern Methodists University (SMU) and others going into the American Athletic Conference Championship.
“It was a great experience playing with a lot of the girls who are returning from the previous season, so we have really good chemistry on and off the field,” said senior midfielder and forward Tanya Boychuk.
The University of Memphis hosted the first round of the AAC conference tournament at the Track and Soccer Complex. Here the Lady Tigers would emerge victorious against the number sixth seed, the University of Central Florida (UCF), the final score being 2-0.
In the second round, the Tigers faced the Houston Cougars, defeating them with a final score of 1-0, and advancing to the championship. In the final, they faced South Florida – a rival that the Tigers had lost four of their last six games against spanning back to 2018. Both teams finished regulation without a goal and the two overtime periods would follow suit. The Tigers gained the upper hand in penalty kicks, sweeping the Bulls 3-0 with goals from Boychuck, Saorla Miller and Jocelyn Alonzo, along with spectacular goalkeeping from Elizabeth Moberg.
With that win in the books, the Tigers had secured their place in the NCAA tournament.
The first round of the tournament saw the Tigers taking on the Tigers as the U of M faced off with LSU. After a 3-0 routing at the feet of Alonzo, Aubrey Mister and Bryana Buttar – and the continued excellence of Moberg in the net – the Tigers were on their way to face off with top-seeded Duke.
After a tight battle with a top four team in the nation, the Tigers’ season would end with a 0-1 score.
“Lost to Duke, 1-0, but uh, it was a good tight game,” Monaghan said.
But the season did not end for Boychuk and incoming Tiger Izzy Monck, who both made national level teams. Boychuck made the Canadian National Team, which finished third place in the Arnold Clark Cup in February.
“It’s a great experience, just to play with high level athletes and the environment is very professional, so it’s an awesome experience,” she said. “And to bring it back to Memphis is really important for me also.”
Midfielder and defender Grace Stordy is also no stranger to making a national team.
“Obviously it’s a surreal experience, to play for your country and be in an environment with the best girls in Canada. It’s definitely really cool,” said Stordy.
The team’s success is undeniable. So how does this success come about?
According to Monaghan and players, the team’s success is due to something that simply can’t be bought: comradery.
“We have a really strong connection off the field, so we get along really well,” Boychuk said. “It’s a lot easier to connect on the field with our chemistry.”
According to Monaghan, the team isn’t so much a team as they are a family.
“I refer to our team as a family, not necessarily a team, and the girls are extremely, extremely, extremely close,” he said.
But it’s not just the closeness of the team that guarantees success, but also the leadership within the team. And while Monaghan is the head coach, he isn’t alone. He and the team have an entire crew to help and support the Tigers. Not to mention leadership within the women, with Boychuk as this year’s team captain.
“Every year we’ve had a successful year – and a successful year to me is winning a championship or making the national tournament – and every year we’ve done that, I can take a good hard look at my group of kids and the one common factor is that we had really good leadership,” Monaghan said.
While the fall season might have ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the team has already begun looking to the upcoming season.
Currently in the off season, the team has played a few games this spring against Ole Miss, the Toronto Blizzard, Vanderbilt, UT Martin, UAB and will round out the off season with another round against Ole Miss.
According to Monaghan, several players will be returning in the fall and they’re looking at a few promising recruits. And as the defending Conference Champions, the team is expecting to have a target on their back. But that target doesn’t impede on their own expectations.
“The expectation of this program will always be that we’re playing for a conference championship and we’re making the national tournaments,” Monaghan said.