08 Nov Minium: ODU’s Conference USA Women’s Soccer Championship Team Took Years to Build
By Harry Minium
As she held the Conference USA women’s soccer championship trophy aloft, Angie Hind‘s mind wandered.
The ODU head coach thought about the dozens of players and coaches who had come and gone since she and long-time associate head coach Michelle Barr rolled up their sleeves in 2013 to repair the wreckage of a program then in tatters.
The Monarchs had lost 49 games in four seasons and were 1-13-3 in 2013. Hind and Barr were starting over from scratch. It was a mammoth rebuilding task, to be sure.
“Go build a championship program,” Athletic Director Wood Selig told them.
It took eight seasons of building a culture, slowly upgrading the talent, and finding the players with the heart and desire. And it all paid off Sunday afternoon on a windswept Florida Atlantic University soccer field when the Monarchs shut down Southern Miss, 1-0.
For Hind, this victory wasn’t won just by the players on the field.
“Winning the championship means everything for our program,” Hind said. “Because we started this eight years ago. I want to give a big shout out to every single alum and player who’s been a part of building this program back up to where it is now.
“All of our players, they learned from the guys who came before them. Everyone who ever played with us or coached with us had a role in this championship.”
Hind and Barr were the common denominator. The Scottish natives had, years earlier, successfully turned the program around at Dartmouth College and were ready for a new challenge.
“Angie has had some turnover on her staff, but having Michelle there all eight seasons, that continuity really helped,” Dr. Selig said. “They’ve been such a great team.
“I’m as happy for Angie and Michelle as I am for the program because they’ve invested so much of themselves into this program. It’s so great that they saw the fruits of their labor.”
The Monarchs won three games in five days in Boca Raton, claiming ODU’s first Conference USA title, and the first championship for the program since 2006.
To put things in perspective, most of the current Monarchs weren’t yet in grade school when ODU last won a title.
Although it was a defensive slugfest, ODU scored on a play worthy of an ESPN SportsCenter highlight.
In the 19th minute, Megan Watts, a junior from Stafford, Virginia, dribbled into the right side of the box, pulling a defender with her. She then slid the ball with her right foot behind her back to the left, and, in one motion, lofted a perfect, left-footed centering pass that Morgan Hall headed into the net.
The Southern Miss defenders never had a chance.
“It was a great ball into the box by Megan,” said Hall, the senior forward from Richmond.
ODU’s defense was, as usual, dominant. Led by Emily Roberts, the fifth-year senior named tournament Defensive MVP, the Monarchs smothered Southern Miss, which averaged 2.3 goals per game and had scored as many as eight in a game.
ODU (13-4-1) shut out nine teams this season and won six one-goal games.
Roberts called the MVP award “a team award. This award is for the defensive line as a whole. We were great all season and it just shows how great we were in this tournament.”
Allie Brimmer, a fifth-year senior, said that it helped that so many fifth-year seniors decided to take advantage of an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic.
Like nearly every college team in America, the Monarchs were locked away in a “bubble” much of last winter and spring because of the pandemic. They were unable to associate with other students and friends in order to avoid infection. Hind said turned that negative into a plus.
“Every team went through the same thing,” she said. “It’s what we did during that time that made the difference.
“We really tried to get to know each other as people, to feel closer. Our seniors spent a lot of time talking to the younger players about the program. These girls, they’re very close.”
ODU dominated voting for the all-tournament team, with Carla Morich, the junior from Hamburg, Germany, named the Offensive MVP.
Morich and Roberts were joined by Ece Turkoglu, the junior from Istanbul, Turkey, and Kasey Perry, the senior goalie from Dayton, Ohio, on the all-tournament team.
As the Monarchs boarded the bus for the 15-hour ride back to Norfolk, Hind said the players would not let the championship trophy go. It stayed with them in the back of the bus, as players pawed, hugged and mugged in front of it.
“I’ve never seen so many selfies,” Hind said. “Their hands are attached to it, along with every championship banner they could find.”
Under normal circumstances, the team would have flown to Boca Raton. However, their fights to Florida were cancelled and rather than taking a chance of missing the tournament, Hind quickly put her team on a bus.
Celebrating Morgan Hall’s first half goal
The 15-hour ride added to the weariness caused by playing three games in five days, and is further testament to this team’s grit and determination.
“We didn’t want any more surprises,” Hind said of renting a bus. “We wanted to control what we could control. It was a rough trip down but we recovered.
“It’s certainly going to be a much more enjoyable ride back with some silverware.”
Especially for the seniors.
“It feels unreal,” Brimmer said. “We just made history for our program. For the seniors who are leaving, this was so big, so awesome.
“To finally get that trophy is just huge.”
And the season has not ended. Later today, the Monarchs will find out who and wherre they play in the NCAA Tournament. ODU has never won an NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament game. This will be a chance for another first.
Hind said it was a moment that anyone wearing ODU blue will forget.
“This is a very special team,” she said. “Our seniors had the talent, and the desire to make an impact on this program that has driven them through July until today.
“We managed to get everything right this year, with the depth and quality of talent. I’m just so proud of how we played.”
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