Historic Alabama Soccer run reaches College Cup Final Four

Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

Even when Duke answered Alabama’s back-to-back haymakers with back-to-back haymakers of its own to even this much-anticipated, much-hyped Elite Eight showdown between the region’s top two seeds, there was a feeling in the chilly autumn air at the Alabama Soccer Stadium that this late November night wasn’t going to be the end to Alabama’s storybook 2022 soccer season.

A little added drama? Sure. Twenty extra minutes on the pitch for the players? Yeah. But the end? For this Alabama team? No. No chance. This night belonged too much to Alabama for this to be the end. This was Alabama’s night. And so far 2022 has been Alabama’s season.

Pedigree? Program stature? Past accomplishments? Duke possessed all of that in spades. None of that mattered Friday night. This night was all about the here and now. And after 90 minutes of game action, it was clear to a sold-out, overflow, revved-up, crimson-and-white shaker-wielding crowd the likes of which had never before so saturated the Alabama Soccer Stadium that this upstart Alabama team was the stronger, grittier, more skilled, more talented, more determined side this night.

Want numbers? Mull these over. Shots? Alabama 26, Duke 12. Shots on goal? Alabama 12, Duke 7. Corner kicks? Alabama 15, Duke 2. That’s not lucking out. That’s not eeking by. That’s not haphazardly stumbling ahead or around or through. That’s muscling past a big-name soccer school with a show of might.

Yeah, between Alabama and Duke, the ACC outfit out of Durham, N.C., clearly owns the richer soccer history. Friday night at the Alabama Soccer Stadium, Alabama clearly had the better team. And it wasn’t even close. Except for on the scoreboard.

Initially, it looked like Bama was about to make the scoreboard look lopsided, too. After a scoreless first half, Ashlynn Serepca, off a double assist from Riley Tanner and Gessica Skorka, found the back of the net for Bama just four minutes after teammate Gianna Paul had put the women in home whites on the scoreboard. It went from 0-0 to 2-0 Bama before one of the many chilled Bama fans in attendance Friday night could finish his or her cup of hot cocoa. And with just under 20 minutes left to play, Bama players, coaches and fans were beginning to sniff Cary, N.C.; sight of the 2022 College Cup.

Duke’s Michelle Cooper tallied two goals down the stretch to knot the match and create some nervousness among the sea of crimson in the stands and in the standing-room-only section along the fencing behind the goal. But the Tide wasn’t about to be denied on this night. A Reyna Reyes goal in overtime put the Tide back up for good, securing a thrilling 3-2 victory and sending No. 1 seed Alabama to its first-ever College Cup, the Final Four of women’s college soccer.

Alabama Soccer in with elite programs

Alabama will take on UCLA (20-2-1) in one semifinal matchup while defending national champ Florida State (17-2-3) will meet North Carolina (19-4-1) in the other. Both matches will take place Friday night at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. The national championship game is set for Monday, December 5, at WakeMed Soccer Park. All three matches can be seen on ESPNU.

UCLA is making its 12th trip to the final four, has finished national runner-up four times — most recently in 2017 — and won its one national title in 2013. Florida State is making its 13th trip to the final four, has finished national runner-up three times, and the national championship it won last season was the school’s third in the sport. North Carolina? Um. Twenty-one national championships in women’s college soccer over the last 40 years is all anyone needs to know about that program.

That’s right, Alabama soccer, whose best season in its 36-year history came just last season in 2021 when it made the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out, is now on the same stage with those three goliaths of the sport as one of the last four still standing in 2022.

The Crimson Tide, long accustomed to being two wins away from perhaps a winning record on the season or two wins away from qualifying for the SEC Tournament or two wins away from avoiding the SEC West basement, is now two wins away from winning a national championship.

Talk about blowing the ceiling off a program once mired in decades of mediocrity. Talk about a still-unfolding story worthy of the big screen. Mr. Spielberg, you might want to go ahead and grab your pen and notepad now and book a flight to Cary.

Of course, anyone who’s been following Alabama soccer in 2022 knows Alabama’s 4-0 run through the NCAA Tournament, the toppling of ACC powerhouse Duke and the berth in the 2022 College Cup was not some sort of late-season hot streak. This history-making Alabama team has been busting barriers, defying odds, and notching program firsts all season long.

There is nothing fluky about Bama being in the College Cup. Nothing surprising about Friday night’s outcome. Nothing stunning about Bama continuing to emerge victorious as the NCAA Tournament’s field of 64 was whittled from 64 to 32 to 16 to 8 and now 4.

BYU. Clemson. South Carolina. Arkansas. Go ask those top-tier teams, those Bama-vanquished foes about this Crimson Tide team. Alabama’s been beating highly ranked teams, after highly ranked teams, after highly ranked teams all season long. Alabama won the SEC regular season championship. Heck, it went undefeated through the SEC regular season slate. It finished a perfect 13-0 at home in 2022. Wes Hart’s squad is now 23-2-1 on the season. Let that sink in for a minute; 23-2-1. Even Nick Saban’s eyebrow would rise at the sight of such a sparkling mark.

This kind of sustained, four-month-stretch dominance doesn’t happen by accident. What happened Friday night was no aberration, no shock, no out-of-nowhere triumph. It’s been more of the same of what this Alabama team has been doing all season. It just came on a bigger stage. In the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

And though players and coaches rightfully celebrated the feat afterward, posing with photos of the filled-out region bracket, holding up College Cup signs and making snow angels in the confetti, what happened Friday night was not the finish line either.

It was a continuation.

Alabama’s historic, storybook 2022 soccer season continues to be written. The scene merely shifts now. To the grandest, most glorious stage in women’s college soccer. Where the glare of the sport’s spotlight shines brightest.

The final four? Of women’s college soccer? Florida State, North Carolina and UCLA? Sure. OK. But Alabama? Alabama is there, too? Surprised? Seriously?

Here’s a better question.

Where have you been the last four months?