STORRS — It has been a special season for the UConn women's soccer team.
The Huskies' 2-1 win over SMU at Morrone Stadium Sunday was UConn's 16th of the season. UConn (16-2, 8-1 American Athletic Conference) had not won 16 games since 2005.
Len Tsantiris' team went into Sunday's game with the American regular season title already locked up. UCF's 3-1 victory over USF Friday guaranteed UConn would enter next week's conference tournament as the No. 1 seed for the first time. The Huskies had not won a conference regular season title since that 2005 season.
"Our goal this summer was to be regular season champs, because we weren't last year," senior Brianna Butler said after scoring her first career goal Sunday. "It's great going into the postseason, but I'm sure we're going to be searched upon to win. I think we'll be fine. I think we'll do well in the postseason."
Butler is one of nine seniors in the 2015 class. Each season has brought improvement with this class. In 2012, the Huskies were 9-8-2. The following year they were 11-9. Last year brought 14 wins, a conference tournament title and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Sunday, eight seniors (captain Megan Hunsberger has been injured most of the season) started and played the majority of the match for the Huskies. None of them were playing just because they were seniors. All eight who started—Butler, Andrea Plucenik, Liana Hinds, Allison Saucier, Gabriella Cuevas, Annie Wickett, Sam McGuire and Ruby Fee—have been key contributors over the last few seasons.
McGuire got things going early Sunday with a headed goal on a corner kick service from Hinds. Butler followed up five minutes later, volleying in a bouncing ball on a corner kick.
UConn has been dominant this season. The Huskies started 7-0 for the first time in 17 years and have not lost since Sept. 24 at USF. Both of UConn's losses were on the road against ranked opponents: No. 24 USF and No. 19 Rutgers.
"I think we figured ourselves out more," Rachel Hill said of what has changed during the Huskies' current eight-game winning streak. "We never stopped working.
Morrone Stadium was a fortress for UConn this season. This year's UConn squad is only the fifth in program history to finish the season undefeated and the fourth to win every game at home. In nine home games, UConn only conceded three goals. SMU's goal Sunday was a beautiful chipped toe poke by Lauren Harrington that Allison Saucier had no chance of stopping. It was also UConn's first goal conceded at home since Sept. 6.
"It's very big for the program," Butler said of UConn's undefeated home record. "I can't believe it's been that long. I think we worked very hard this year, and I think we earned it."
The Huskies have positioned themselves to keep playing at Morrone once the NCAA Tournament begins. UConn entered the week ranked No. 6 in the RPI. Should the Huskies earn a No. 1 or 2 seed, they would be positioned to play at least three matches at home in the tournament.
Last year, in UConn's first NCAA Tournament since 2010, the Huskies had one home game before having to travel to Penn State, where their season ended. So the Huskies are using the idea of an extended home schedule as extra motivation at the American championship.
"Very extra motivation. It's a little cold up here, but besides that, it's great to play at home. We play so much better at home than we do away, so we need those wins."
Before that, UConn will look to win its second straight conference tournament title. As the No. 4 seed in 2014, UConn knocked off No. 1 seed before beating No. 3 seed UCF on penalties in the championship game.
After its incredible season this year, UConn will enter the tournament as the presumed favorite. But with UCF and USF both separating themselves from the rest of the pack this season, the Huskies will have to be at their best to win the title again.
'I'm excited," McGuire said. "It's my last year, so I want to go out with a bang, and I know I have eight other girls with me here who want the same thing. So we're going to keep fighting for as many titles as we can get."