UConn is heading back to the Big East and it couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Huskies’ women’s soccer team.
Though head coach Margaret Rodriguez is in her third season at the helm, the incoming freshman class is the first to be recruited by the entire coaching staff. UConn is bringing in its best group of freshmen under Rodriguez featuring top recruit Jaydah Bedoya, a forward out of Tabor Academy in Massachusetts, who reclassified into the class of 2020.
After an injury-riddled Year Zero in 2018, the Huskies made marked improvement this past season with a 6-8-3 record and got better as the season went on. UConn returns a young but strong core and if it can find someone who can put the ball in the back of the net consistently, the Huskies could be a top-four team in the Big East.
Under Rodriguez, UConn has recruited well and it should only get better. The Huskies have the best recruiting situation in the northeast. UConn already has prestige with the second-most wins in Division I history, behind only UNC, and a new stadium to work with. Though the Big East is arguably a marginal upgrade from the AAC, the proximity of all the teams in the conference is important.
The Huskies’ main recruiting areas are Connecticut, upstate New York, and greater New York City. UConn already doesn’t travel far for non-conference games (all but three in the last four years have been within reasonable driving distance) and now with the road trips to Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and even Villanova, Rodriguez and her staff can pitch parents on being able to drive to watch all but a handful of their kids’ games.
So, let’s take a look at how the Big East stacks up in women’s soccer. The conference is using divisions for 2020, so UConn will only play Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Providence and Villanova in a double round-robin. But since that seems to be only a temporary measure, we’ll cover the entire conference:
2019 record: 17-4-2 (7-2-0 Big East)
Finish: 1st, Big East Tournament champions, NCAA Tournament second round
Since joining the Big East in 2013, Xavier has made a slow climb to the upper tier of the conference. After a miserable 3-13-3 season in 2014, the Musketeers improved their win total every year but one up until this past year when they ran through the conference and won the regular season and tournament titles.
With divisions implemented in 2020, Xavier should be the favorite in the west.
Record: 13-5-2 (6-1-2 Big East)
Finish: 2nd, Big East Tournament runner-up, NCAA Tournament first round
A perennial contender in the Big East, Georgetown had made the NCAA Tournament every year since 2012 and reached the College Cup (Final Four) twice in 2016 and 2018. Head coach Dave Nolan is in his 16th season at the helm and has won the Big East regular season title and tournament three times apiece.
Until someone takes the title from them, the Hoyas are the team to beat every year in the Big East — and especially with in the East Division.
Record: 10-5-4 (5-2-2 Big East)
Finish: 3rd, Big East Tournament quarterfinals
Butler has been one of the most consistent teams in the Big East with at least 10 wins in all but one season since 2012 but that hasn’t translated into much hardware for the Bulldogs. They have one Big East championship from 2015 and have made the NCAA Tournament twice — 2015 and 2017. This past season, Butler finished third in the conference but got bounced on penalty kicks in the opening round of the Big East Tournament by Providence.
The Bulldogs have one of the most unique coaching setups in college soccer with husband and wife duo Tari St. John and Rob Alman serving as co-head coaches. St. John has held the position for 14 years while Alman joined her in 2012 after they married.
Record: 10-7-3 (5-3-1 Big East)
Finish: T-4th, Big East Tournament semifinals
Villanova rattled off six NCAA Tournament appearances from 2001-2009 but fell off once the decade flipped. The Wildcats have failed to even reach the .500 mark for the first eight years of the 2010s, but under head coach Chris McLain, Villanova has progressively gotten better each season, improving from 6-12 in 2017 to 9-9 in 2018 before going 10-7-3 in 2019.
Record: 8-8-3 (5-3-1 Big East)
Finish: T-4th, Big East Tournament quarterfinals
Outside of a four-year period from 2013-’16 when DePaul won at least 10 games every season and made two NCAA Tournaments, the Blue Demons have mostly been middle-of-the-pack in the Big East. They rarely challenge for the regular season crown but don’t fall to the bottom of the standings often, either.
DePaul is led by Erin Chastain — sister-in-law of Brandi Chastain, who scored the famous game-winning penalty kick in the 1999 World Cup final and is one of the most well-known women’s soccer players ever.
Record: 8-9-3 (3-5-1 Big East)
Finish: T-6th, Big East Tournament semifinals
When UConn and Providence squared off in the season opener this past season, it was the first time the two schools faced since the new Big East formed in 2013. Historically, the Huskies have dominated the series, holding a 28-3-1 record all-time against the Friars.
Under sixth-year head coach Sam Lopes, Providence has consistently been competitive in the conference but can’t seem to crack into the top tier with just one top-three finish.
This season, the East Division projects to be a battle between UConn, Providence and Villanova for second place behind Georgetown.
Record: 6-11-1 (3-5-1 Big East)
Finish: T-6th, missed Big East Tournament
Under head coach Markus Roeders, Marquette was one of the most consistent teams in college soccer, going above .500 in 21 of his 24 years at the helm. The Golden Eagles’ golden days came between 2008-2013, when they reached the NCAA Tournament every season and won five straight Big East regular season championships and two tournament titles.
However, Roeders stepped down this offseason after just one NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons and was replaced by Frank Pelaez, who spent the last five years as an assistant at Loyola Chicago and was previously Roeders’ longtime associate head coach at Marquette.
Record: 8-7-3 (2-4-3 Big East)
Finish: 8th, missed Big East Tournament
Creighton hasn’t been much of a factor in the new Big East as the Bluejays have failed to finish higher than seventh in any given season since 2013. They had a good run in the 2000s with four NCAA Tournament appearances between 2002-2007 but have just one trip to the big dance otherwise.
Record: 5-12-1 (2-6-1 Big East)
Finish: 9th, missed Big East Tournament
St. John’s is the most up and down team in the Big East. The Red Storm are in the midst of one of a low point at the moment, missing three straight Big East Tournaments. But prior to that, St. John’s had a four-year stretch where they reached the conference tournament every year and went to the NCAA Tournament twice.
St. John’s only loses three seniors who saw significant action, so history points to the Red Storm improving next season. Their top returner in minutes played is rising sophomore Isabelle Aviza, whose brother Austin was a goalkeeper for UConn men’s soccer from 2017-18.
Record: 2-13-1 (1-8 Big East)
Finish: 10th, missed Big East Tournament
Seton Hall has been one of the worst teams in the country since 2013, winning more than three games just twice (including a winless 2017 campaign) and never recording more than five victories.
However, second-year head coach Ciara Crinion is well-regarded in the women’s soccer world and previously spent seven seasons at the University of Hartford. Allison Saucier, a former goalkeeper at UConn, is one of the assistants as well.
Joining the Big East also significantly reduces the amount of travel for the players. In the AAC, the team would head out on Wednesday to Florida, Texas and Oklahoma and not get back until the early hours of Monday morning. That’s a lot of missed classes and time away from home. That will be as great for the players as it is for the athletic department’s budget.
The move to the Big East may have been done with basketball in mind, but it’s certainly a big boon to the women’s soccer program as well.