TCU soccer completed a historic 2020 season with an NCAA Elite Eight run for the first time in program history last spring, but the Horned Frogs have the potential to be even better this year.
Since coach Eric Bell took over the program 10 years ago, the Frogs have been on a constant upward trend, becoming one of the powerhouses in the Big 12, as well as nationally.
After winning the Big 12 Championship in undefeated fashion and finishing the regular season 11-1-1 (eventually lost in the postseason to Virginia) TCU began their 2021 campaign ranked No. 8 in the United Soccer Coaches poll and have already moved up to No. 6.
A strong start
Five games into the season, TCU has not shown any signs of slowing down. The Frogs have won all their games, scoring a total of 18 goals and only conceding one. This includes a victory at home against No. 9 Texas A&M, the only team that defeated the Frogs last year in the regular season and a team TCU had not beaten in 29 years.
Another important result was their road victory against No. 20 Pittsburgh, making it TCU’s second win against a ranked opponent. These victories, accompanied by strong play, allow for optimism for coach Bell and his team.
Tough road win by our group! https://t.co/ozQ0f3vS7F— Coach EB (@CoachEricBell) September 5, 2021
However, TCU faces an unprecedented challenge in trying to replace two All-Americans. Midfielder Yazmeen Ryan and goalkeeper Emily Alvarado graduated last spring, creating some questions on whether the Frogs could be as good without them.
Ryan, who was drafted 6th overall by the Portland Thorns in the 2021 NWSL draft, was a Swiss Army knife for Bell in her four years as a Horned Frog. Playing as an attacker, midfielder and defender at several points in her TCU career, Ryan’s versatility was vital the Frogs’ team’s success.
Alvarado, who plays for Stade de Reims, one of the elite teams in France, contributed to making TCU the best defense in the conference. Setting a record with 0.54 goals allowed per game last season, Alvarado also tied the school record for shutouts with eight, even in a shortened season.
Despite the early success, how do the Frogs replace the production of two of the strongest talents that the university has ever produced?
So far, the answer has been depth.
A more balanced roster
Bell’s recruiting staff added 11 new faces to the roster for the season, including six first-years and five transfers. All 11 have already seen minutes, with first years Oli Pena, Brenna Brosam, Camryn Lancaster and Lauren Memoly, as well as graduate transfer Jenna Winebrenner, becoming regular rotation players.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the Horned Frogs have to offer line-by-line.
In goal, sophomore Lauren Kellett has been solid commanding the backline. Bell decided to rotate between Kellett and senior transfer Kinsey Ehmann the first two games of the season. However, Kellett’s security gave her the full-time gig for the past three games. She has not conceded a goal in 360 minutes.
TCU’s defense was already sturdy, returning all four starters after Tijana Duricek decided to use her extra year of eligibility. New additions have made it look more promising.
Winebrenner has stepped into a starting center-back role after transferring in from Notre Dame. Brossam and 2020 Big 12 Freshman of the Year Marz Akins have split time in the other center-back position.
Even though she started all of last year’s games, Duricek has only played residual minutes so far after missing part of training camp to attend her sister’s wedding in Serbia. After her solid season, she should be in contention for starter minutes as well.
In a position where the starters played virtually every available minute last year, these additions could help increase the competition and allow for more fresh legs when it matters most. The TCU defense is a mix of experience and youth that the Frogs hope pays dividends.
Wing-backs Chaylyn Hubbard and Brandi Peterson return to their positions. With both players starting since their first college seasons, they have had the opportunity to grow under Bell. A player known for locking down defensively, Peterson has elevated her game and become a constant threat offensively.
Moving on to the midfield, all three starters from last year’s postseason run are back. Like in every other line, there is increased competition with Olivia Hasler’s starting position being challenged by Pena, who five games in has shown why she was a four-star recruit.
Payton Crews and Gracie Brian have been able to maintain their roles thanks to their great play. Brian already surpassed her points total from the year before with her 2 goals and 5 assists.
Michelle Slater and Nicolette Lewis, as well as junior transfer Alex Fava and first-year Paige Crews, are also expected to see midfield minutes.
Up front, replacing Ryan’s production after she led the team in points, with 7 goals and 6 assist, might be the toughest hurdle for TCU, but it has been a collective effort.
Slater has been responsible for slotting in that starting left wing, scoring the game-winner on the road against Pittsburgh. Grace Collins has continued to be effective after leading the team with 8 goals last season, leading the Frogs again with 5 goals in five games. Messiah Bright completes the attack at center forward, a role she maintains for the fourth season in a row.
The real improvement in the attack comes off the bench with Memoly and Lancaster. With 2 goals and 3 assists, Lancaster has been a difference-maker and usually one of Bell’s first substitutions. Senior Maddy Warren is still a key reserve, scoring in the season opener and playing minutes in every game.
An optimistic future
With the team coming off the most successful season in program history, surpassing or even replicating last year should be considered unlikely. However, the added depth coupled with the growth seen from this team addresses the very few weaknesses the Frogs had.
An additional year of assimilation into coach Bell’s system, plus the experience of a deep postseason run, gives TCU more arguments to challenge for the National Championship.
The bar is set pretty high, but if there is anything this TCU team is used to, it’s exceeding expectations.
The Frogs’ season continues this Thursday at Alabama. The game is scheduled for 9 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network.