To hear USF men’s soccer coach John Hackworth describe his team’s 2001 season, one might not realize what they accomplished.
Though the Bulls finished with a respectable 15-7 record, held a top-10 ranking for a week and reached the second round of the NCAA Championship, Hackworth recalls most how the Bulls exited the NCAAs – a triple-overtime 1-0 loss on a soggy field at Penn State.
“Satisfied? No. I wouldn’t be satisfied unless we won our last game, and that would be the national championship,” Hackworth said. “And that’s the honest truth. But am I proud of what our team did? Yes. It’s so difficult to get everything in alignment and to have that kind of success that we had this last year.”
The Bulls’ performance was a dramatic turnaround from the previous year. USF finished the 2000 season with a 10-9 record and missed out on the Conference USA playoffs, but the 2001 Bulls appeared to be a different team from the outset.
In their previous three seasons, Hackworth’s teams had a pattern of starting slowly and finishing in a flurry. This year, however, the Bulls began with 1-0 wins against Lafayette and Florida International, giving them two more shutouts than they had in 2000. Goalkeeper Troy Perkins received the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week award for his efforts.
The Bulls didn’t let up, stretching their unbeaten record to 8-0, including winning the Duke/Adidas Tournament by defeating N.C. State and Duke Sept. 7 and 8, respectively. Forward Jason Cudjoe was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Week and earned a spot on the Soccer America Team of the Week for scoring twice in the tourney.
“We did some great things,” Hackworth said. “We won 14 regular season games – that’s the most in school history. We got off to a great start. We went 2-1 against ACC schools. We finished tied for second in our conference.”
Holding a No. 8 ranking, the Bulls suffered their first loss of the season Oct. 5, 3-0 vs. C-USA rival UAB at home. They went on to lose 5-1 to conference foe Saint Louis and 5-0 to North Carolina and disappeared from the rankings.
“It wasn’t because we didn’t have the capability to play much better,” Hackworth said of the losses. “It’s because we kinda lost focus. That’s disappointing, but at the same time it was positive that we bounced back from those.”
The Bulls recovered to enter the C-USA Tournament they were hosting as the third seed. But No. 6 seed Marquette upset them 2-1, endangering their NCAA hopes and denying them one of their stated goals of winning C-USA.
“At the beginning of the year we set some goals for ourselves,” Cudjoe said. “We accomplished some of them, but we did fall short of others. All in all, I think we had a pretty good season. It’s something that we will be able to build on for next year and the coming years.”
An improved defense was key to the Bulls’ success – 30 goals conceded, compared to 41 last year, and seven shutouts to none last year. Before the season began, the players also addressed the issues of team unity and commitment, things which were lacking in the past.
“The guys realized that individual accolades didn’t get anybody to where they wanted to be – that if they were going to do it, they were going to do it together, and it was going to take a collective commitment from the group to head in the same direction all the time,” Hackworth said. “You can say everything as a coach that you want, but until you get 24 guys all working together, going the same way, no matter how much talent you have, you’re going to have struggles.”
Though the focus this year was on a total team orientation, a number of Bulls won individual awards, including forward Gabriel Salgado and midfielder Jeff Thwaites who were named C-USA co-Offensive Players of the Week Oct. 29. Thwaites and Cudjoe tied for the team lead with 10 goals and were All C-USA first team choices, while Salgado and Perkins were third team selections. Freshman defender Jared Vock was a second team selection and joined midfielder Brandon Streicher on the All-Freshman team.Cudjoe and Perkins were named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-South Region second team, while Thwaites was a third-team choice.
The Penn State loss was the final collegiate match for seniors Cudjoe, defender Joe Valencia and midfielder Matt Cavenaugh.”I know personally I did a lot of reflecting on the game and on the year in general, seeing that it was my last game,” Cudjoe said. “I honestly feel that everyone did the best job they could possibly do in order to continue our season. So I’m proud of all our players.”Hackworth said he will remember the year fondly, despite the heartbreaking loss at the end.
“The thing I’ll remember most about this team is that they really came together, played as a team,” Hackworth said. “For three-fourths of this year, from the time we got here until the time we finished, it was a lot of fun to be a part of this team. That’s the thing that I’ll remember the most.
“Whether it was winning games, or the way we hung out in the locker room or guys would be in the airports or on buses or hotels. Those are the special times that you can’t really take away.”
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