The Santa Clara women’s soccer team reached the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2005. Now it’s envisioning even more success.
Walk into the Leavey Center through the main entrance and you immediately come face-to-face with a glass display case featuring Santa Clara’s 2001 NCAA women’s soccer championship trophy.
It’s been a while since SCU has had realistic hopes of adding more hardware to the collection. But that changed this year, when the Broncos advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 seasons.
The Elite Eight run, combined with a strong incoming recruiting class and the arrival of transfer Maria Sanchez (a member of Mexico’s World Cup team), gives the program tremendous momentum.
“We landed a huge recruit on Tuesday, and I sent a text to my staff from the road saying ‘We are absolutely back’ and we're looking forward to being in the conversation every year for the national championship,” women’s soccer coach Jerry Smith said.
The season didn’t look promising at the start, when SCU won just three of its first 12 games. But it carried a seven-match winning streak into the quarterfinals, having outscored opponents 14-2.
“We became a very gritty, disciplined, focused team and that’s a great lesson,” Smith said. “We were 3-5-4 and to be a hair away from the Final Four is just an incredible turnaround. The players were resilient, they were tough. It’s the old “not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up’ and that’s what we went through this year.”
The team may have lacked the front-line talent of the 2013 squad that featured U.S. National Team member Julie Johnston ’14, Mexican international Sofia Huerta ’15 and NWSL veteran Morgan Marlborough ’13. But as a sign of the 2016 team’s resilience, the Broncos had four come-from-behind victories (two on the road) and knocked off eventual national champion Southern California.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction you take when a team maximized its potential and learned how to be a great team,” Smith said.
The Broncos’ character was exemplified by senior Jordan Jesolva ’17, who missed two years with injuries but came back to lead the team in goals this season.
SCU’s tournament run was highlighted by a 1-0 second-round win over host Stanford, which was ranked No. 2 in the country and had a 30-match home winning streak in the NCAA Tournament. Avoiding a natural letdown that usually takes place after a monumental upset, the Broncos then defeated N.C. State 3-0 two days later to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals.
SCU’s tournament run came to end with a 1-0 loss at Georgetown, leaving the Broncos just one step shy of competing in the College Cup.
Georgetown actually used SCU’s facilities during its preparation for the College Cup, which took place at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, minutes from the Mission campus. Thinking ahead, Smith texted some of his returning players to tell them to watch Georgetown practicing on their field, getting ready to play for a championship in their backyard.
“I wanted them to come out and watch as some additional motivation to prepare themselves for next year,” Smith said.