KIM D'ARIA / THE EAGLE
It was just Todd West’s second year as a Division I head coach. His men’s soccer team faced a brutal schedule. Having moved from the Colonial Athletic Association in 2000 to the Patriot League in 2001, West’s Eagles were now facing unfamiliar competition to go along with a strong non-conference schedule.
And somehow, West took the AU men’s soccer team on an unprecedented run, winning a conference tournament title, going deep in the NCAA tournament and upsetting powerhouses along the way.
The magical feeling of that unforgettable year was stirred up again Sept. 24, as the 2001 team was honored during halftime of AU’s Patriot League home opener against Colgate University, invoking memories of a phenomenal season.
Before the 2001 campaign, the Eagles liked their chances.
“There is a nice blend of veteran leadership to go along with a quality recruiting class,” West told AU Athletics prior to the 2001 season. “The nucleus of our team is returning and should really step to the front this year.”
The Eagles returned their top scorers, defenders and goalkeeper for 2001.
Players from that team remember the energy as well.
“You just felt we had something as a team,” said then-junior midfielder Kris Kuykendall at Saturday’s event.
Both the players and West credited a large part of the team’s postseason success to the non-conference competition. By squaring off against then-No. 5 University of Maryland and then-No. 3 University of Virginia, the Eagles tough out-of-league competition prepared them for the future.
“Todd’s never gonna call a gimme season,” 2001 freshman defender Charlie Koniver said.
Despite it being the team’s first year in a new conference, the Patriot League, West had one goal for the 2001 team: win.
“Our goal was to win a conference championship,” West said.
The Eagles adapted to the different style of the Patriot League and put together a strong regular season run, finishing 6-1-0 in league play and setting up a tournament run.
Here’s where things get unforgettable.
The Eagles defeated Lehigh University 1-0 in double overtime to advance to the Patriot League tournament championship game for a showdown with the College of the Holy Cross. The Crusaders had handed AU its lone conference loss of the year.
After two overtimes with the score tied 1-1, the game went to soccer’s lottery: penalty kicks.
“It felt like we had played forever,” Kuykendall said.
The Eagles defeated the Crusaders in penalties 5-3 to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and a showdown with Ohio State University.
Making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1997, AU came out strong with two goals in the game’s first six minutes and held off a furious Buckeye rally to prevail 2-1.
The joyride looked to be coming to a close for the Eagles as they traveled to play Wake Forest University. Stacked with future pros and national team players, Koniver remembers the Demon Deacons as “way more athletic.”
But the Eagles continued their incredible run by handily defeating Wake Forest 3-0, thanks to two goals by Adam Rosen.
The storybook season came to an end when eventual national champion University of North Carolina clipped the Eagles 1-0 in overtime in the Sweet 16.
“Looking back, we had a pretty good season; we could’ve been in the Elite 8 or Final 4,” West said.
The Eagles finished the 2001 season at No. 14 in the National Coaches’ Poll.
On the same day the 2001 team was honored, this year’s Eagles opened their season by smashing defending Patriot League regular season champion Colgate 3-0, showing their battles with three nationally ranked teams during a rugged non-conference schedule had prepared them well.