Article and Photo by Mike Puzzanghera
Much like last season, the CAA projects to have some heavy hitters at the top and some disparity at the bottom. Here’s a deeper look at the projected top four teams: the same four that made the tournament last year.
Northeastern’s spring 2020-21 soccer season ended in disappointment, falling to the South top seed UNCW, 3-2, in the CAA semifinal. After wrapping up the regular season as the conference’s second seed in the North, Northeastern couldn’t get the job done in the tournament.
The Huskies finished the regular season at 3-1 in the CAA, with that lone loss coming against perennial power Hofstra. Outside of that game, and a few losses out of conference, Northeastern was a force to be reckoned with.
That force becomes a little weaker up top this season with the departure of their top scorer Chelsea Domond, who transferred to Syracuse to play out her final year of eligibility. The Huskies need someone to step up to fill that goalscoring void up top. Sophomore Gaby Scarlett is one player who seems poised to step into that role, particularly after she stepped up in the CAA Tournament in Northeastern’s last game against UNCW.
Northeastern will be solid across the rest of the pitch, with an exciting midfield of All-CAA first-teamer Alexis Legowski, grad transfer Sydney Fisher, who joins after an impressive four-year career in the Patriot League with Holy Cross, and All-CAA third-teamer Porter Dooley. That core should allow Northeastern to facilitate play and control possession against most opponents.
At the back, All-CAA first-teamer Mikenna McManus and third-team and all-rookie teamer Allie Vazquez provided a strong defensive presence, and should continue to do so this year. The Huskies will certainly hope Julianne Ross can stay healthy this year and see more of the pitch after the three-time All-CAA first team selection appeared in only six games last season.
Add to that goalie and assistant captain Angeline Friel, who broke out last year with five shutouts across 11 starts, allowing just under one goal against per game, and making 45 saves, and Northeastern is a clear favorite to earn their 11th-straight CAA Tournament appearance.
Hofstra would be a great team even if all they had was Lucy Porter patrolling the midfield. Porter, a two-time All-American and two-time CAA Midfielder of the Year, is the best player in the conference and one of the best in the country. She has scored 41 goals and tallied 16 assists across four years, and is back for her fifth season of eligibility. In the context of the CAA, she is an all-time great already.
But what makes Hofstra so strong is that there’s a huge cast of contributors around Porter and like her, most of them are European. Porter has four English compatriots, and the three that are returners, Miri Taylor, Lucy Shepherd, and Jordan Littleboy, were the team’s third, fourth, and fifth top scorers last year. Combined, the four totalled 19 goals and 20 assists last year. Taylor and Shepherd will likely lead the line for the Pride, with Porter, Littleboy, and Swedish midfielder Amanda Ebbeson behind them.
The Pride had six players named to All-CAA teams last year, five of whom are returning: Porter, Taylor, Shepherd, Littleboy, and German defender Anja Suttner. Suttner, for the second year in a row, was named CAA Defensive Player of the Year. This contingent led Hofstra to finish 3-0-1 in the CAA, and 7-1-1 overall.
For a team with such a collection of honors, their last season ended much too early. The Pride fell to South two-seed Elon, 1-0, in the semifinal. In the last few seasons, Hofstra has made a point to show up in these big games, but they couldn’t solve Elon’s defense and conceded a late goal, forcing them to pack up and head home.
Expect Hofstra to be at the top of the conference once again this year. Expect to see them clean up at the CAA awards. And honestly, expect them to go back to the NCAA Tournament. This is one scary team, and they’ve been so for a while.
The 2020 CAA champion Elon Phoenix: not a sentence most expected with some of the other powers in the conference, but Elon turned it up a notch in the CAA Tournament with a pair of 1-0 wins over both No. 1 seeds to claim the program’s first-ever CAA title. It was a magical run, but the Phoenix couldn’t keep that magic going in the NCAA Tournament, ending up on the wrong end of a 1-0 game against Milwaukee in the first round. Still, it was a great season for Elon.
A big catalyst for that success was the performance of freshman goalie McKenna Dalfonso, who finished the year 6-4 with six shutouts, including four straight against CAA foes to first secure Elon’s place in the tournament, then to help them win it. She allowed less than half a goal against per game in CAA play. Dalfonso saved seven Hofstra shots in the CAA semifinal, her strongest performance of the year.
Top scorer Carson Jones is back, using her fifth year of eligibility to try to push the Phoenix further than last year. In a short sample size, she scored three goals in 10 games last year for a low-scoring offense. Jones put up 10 goals as a junior in 2019.
CAA second-teamer Kayla Hodges and freshman Katie Lowe combined to play nearly every minute together at the back. Lowe played every minute and Hodges sat for only nine minutes the whole year. That reliable defensive core in front of Dalfonso helped the Phoenix finish the year at 3-1 in the CAA. Across all six (including tournament) conference games, the Phoenix only conceded a goal in one of them: a 3-1 loss to UNCW.
Elon will be eager to repeat their success this season. To do that, the defense needs to continue to show up in front of Dalfonso. There may be a few 1-0 wins, but expect Elon to compete hard for a title.
Another playoff team from the South, another team with a standout freshman goalie. Much like Elon, UNCW rode a phenomenal season from freshman Blair Barefoot, the CAA’s Goalkeeper of the Year and Rookie of the Year, to the top seed in the South and a 4-0 record in the CAA.
Barefoot conceded just over a goal per game for the Seahawks, making 3.6 saves per game. She had plenty of support right in front of her, with CAA first-teamer Talia Parrous, Carey Allard, Kara Mills, Grace Pilcher, and Makaya Parham seeing plenty of minutes throughout the year in defense.
UNCW’s two-headed scoring dragon of Audrey Harding and Morgan Nanni should keep the offense clicking. The two All-CAA First Team selections combined for 11 goals last season — as many as UNCW conceded all year long. It was those two who drove UNCW’s late comeback against Northeastern in the CAA semifinal, with Nanni scoring twice and Harding once.
After a tough non-conference slate that included a loss to No. 5 Duke, the Seahawks stormed through their conference schedule, only really being pushed in their match against James Madison. But even in that game, they showed resilience and drive to complete a second-half comeback.
With some of the top players in the conference all across the pitch, it’s no wonder UNCW found themselves in pole position to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, particularly after Hofstra lost to Elon in the CAA semifinal. But a poor performance in the last game of the year prevented them from making that dream a reality. They’ll certainly look to get their revenge on Elon during the regular season, and potentially in the playoffs as well.
There’s plenty of other talent around the conference: Towson had four All-Rookie Team members (Phoebe Canoles, Nia Christopher, Riley Melendez, Demi Pierre) last season, giving them plenty to build on after an otherwise disappointing year. James Madison’s Ginger Deel is back for one more season, looking to bolster her impressive goalscoring record. But when looking at the conference as a whole, the four playoff teams from 2020 have to be the four favorites heading into the 2021 season.