The 2011 Georgia soccer team remembered the way they felt on that day in November 2010, huddled together watching the NCAA Selection Show on a wall-size projector screen only to see 64 names go by that weren’t theirs.
After the Bulldogs were left out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years, they were determined to remember that feeling for a year, and not let it happen again.
“I think because of last year I was more nervous than I probably would’ve been,” said senior Jamie Pollock the night the Bulldogs learned of their at-large bid to the 2011 tournament. “Not seeing our name up there last year was a horrible feeling. It took the air out of my stomach. So to see our name up there this year was such a relief. It’s a great feeling.”
Georgia - back on the national scene after that brief and uncomfortable hiatus - traveled to take on the University of Kansas in the first round and earned a 2-0 win over the Jayhawks in Lawrence, Kan., before remaining on the road to meet the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils on their turf in Durham, N.C., in the second round.
The Bulldogs battled the Blue Devils hard through the first 45 minutes, allowing only an own-goal to go behind 1-0 entering halftime against a team that broke its school record for wins in 2011 and had never lost at home in an NCAA Tournament game. Duke would go on to tack on two more after halftime, and a Nicole Locandro score in the 81st minute wasn’t enough as Georgia was eliminated from the field with the 3-1 road loss.
But the Bulldogs (13-7-2) got back on track in 2011 - reaching the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons and eighth time overall, their sixth trip to the Round of 32. Along the way, Georgia offered a glimpse into the promising future with a core group that aims to get the Bulldogs back in the national race a year from now.
“I’m proud of this team and what they accomplished,” said second-year head coach Steve Holeman. “I’m happy for our four seniors to have had the opportunity to get back to the national tournament and I’m glad we got to the second round for them.”
“I think we’ll look back on 2011 and say, ‘Hey, what a great season Georgia had.’ We did well in conference, we made it to the national tournament. That was one of our objectives. The future looks bright for this team and we have so many great players who fought tooth and nail every time they stepped on the field.”
After a rough start that saw Georgia sitting at 1-2 following a pair of tough-to-swallow home losses to Texas and Villanova, the Bulldogs rebounded and then some, rattling off five wins in a row - two of which came in overtime - to move to 6-2 heading into the SEC schedule.
The Bulldogs finished 6-3-2 in the SEC - one of the most competitive leagues in the nation with ultimately eight teams heading to the NCAA Tournament - and strung together another impressive streak going unbeaten for six games during conference play between Oct. 7-23. One of those wins - a historic come-from-behind win over Mississippi State after Georgia trailed 3-0 with under 20 minutes to play - marked the program’s 200th all-time victory becoming only the fourth SEC soccer team and 10th Georgia athletics program to reach that milestone.
Georgia reached the SEC Championships for the seventh consecutive year and 14th time overall, earning the No. 5 seed - which meant a rematch with No. 4 Florida in the quarterfinals. Georgia would fall 2-0 to the Gators, but had ultimately done enough to prove they deserved a bid to the national tournament.
Sophomore Alexa Newfield continued to show she is one of the best players in the SEC - and the nation - leading the SEC in every major offensive statistic and breaking the Bulldog program record for shots (102) and points in a season (40). Newfield will head into her junior year fifth all-time in goals (24), tied for fourth in points (60), and second in shots (189) for a career.
The Bulldogs will bid farewell to the senior class of Jenna Buckley, Ashley Miller, Jamie Pollock, and Bailey Powell - a group that made three NCAA appearances and won 50 games in their careers. Georgia will return 23 players in 2012, including eight regular starters. They will also welcome back junior midfielder Laura Eddy - who suffered a torn ACL in preseason and was out for the year.
Led by a more experienced Newfield, an increasingly more veteran lineup, and one of the top goalkeepers in the SEC in Ashley Baker, Georgia will make a push for yet another NCAA Tournament in 2012.
2011 GEORGIA SOCCER AWARDS (as of Nov. 27)
SEC Watch List: Ashley Baker, Susannah Dennis, Alexa Newfield
SEC Player of the Week: Ashley Baker (Defensive, Sept. 5), Alexa Newfield (Offensive, Sept. 12/Oct. 10)
All-SEC: Alexa Newfield, Jamie Pollock (1st team), Jenna Owens (All-Freshman)
SoccerSavings.com/Soccer News Net Women’s College Player of the Week: Alexa Newfield (Sept. 12)
CoSIDA Academic All-District (Jenna Buckley, Torri Allen, first team; Ashley Baker, Alexa Newfield, second team)
Minnesota Gold Classic All-Tournament Team: Ashley Baker (Defensive MVP), Susannah Dennis, Nicole Locandro, Bailey Powell