On Sunday afternoon, nine UConn seniors will compete in their final regular season match at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium in hopes of winning their ninth home game in as many tries this year.
The largest graduating class since the turn of the century will still be playing for something significant even though they already clinched their first ever American Athletic Conference Championship due to South Florida’s loss on Friday.
Since the inaugural season of UConn women’s soccer in 1979, only four teams (1982, 1983, 1994, 2006) have finished without a loss at home in the regular season. Of those four, just three won every one of those home games. This year’s Huskies could become just the fourth team in 37 seasons to reach that milestone with a victory over SMU.
Without the resiliency of this senior class, they would not have this chance at making history.
Think back to the Harvard game on September 6, which is the last time UConn allowed a goal at home. Down by one with five minutes left in regulation, senior Samantha McGuire (Fishkill, NY), who by chance landed at Connecticut after originally committing to the University of Tennessee, scored her first of six goals this season on a nifty cut-back move in the box to tie the game. Four minutes later, junior Rachel Hill (Rollinsford, NH) sent the Huskies into a frenzy with her game-winning goal with just 35 seconds remaining.
The October 11 game with the hard-nosed Cincinnati Bearcats was another example of the senior class’ excellence. Five minutes into the second half, senior Andrea Plucenik (Brooklyn, CT) stole the ball from Cincinnati’s stingy defense and buried the game-winner past goalkeeper Natalie Smith. That came just three days after she put away East Carolina at Morrone Stadium with a goal just a minute and a half into the contest.
Every senior, in their own unique way, has helped turn the national spotlight back on a Connecticut program that had been struggling to maintain its premier status amongst the elite schools since its last deep NCAA tournament run in 2007.
McGuire, for instance, with her tenacious, steadfast playing style, is set to become the first Husky since Megan Cunningham and Kacey Richards in 2010 to play in every possible game across their four-year career at UConn. She is on pace to finish her career with well over 6,000 minutes played. Each of her six goals this year have come in the second half or beyond, with three of them tying the score when the Huskies trailed and the other three being late game-winners (with one crazy near-GW right before the real-GW) against Tulsa, Memphis and Houston.
Then there is Plucenik, whose breakaway speed and nearly mile-long strides have provided the Huskies with instant offense since she made her first appearance in 2012. After missing her senior year of high school and freshman season at UConn due to two knee injuries on her dominant left leg, Plucenik proved she was still a lethal attacker by scoring five goals in 2012 en route to making the BIG EAST Third and Rookie Teams. This season she has carried a bulk of the offensive load in the latter part of the year, with three of her four goals coming in the last five matches.
Gabriella Cuevas (Wayne, NJ) is another senior who has battled through multiple knee injuries but was still able to make a significant impact at Connecticut. After suffering a season-ending injury just seven minutes into her first career game against Northeastern, Cuevas found her way back onto the pitch and has now appeared in over 30 career games as a Husky. Twenty of those games came in her most complete season in 2013 where she started every contest. This year Cuevas has come off the bench in seven games for UConn, adding another hundred-plus minutes to a career where she has already seen over 2,000 minutes of game time.
Knee injuries have also become commonplace for spirited Syracuse transfer Megan Hunsberger (Bethlehem, PA), who unfortunately had her 2015 season cut short after having season-ending surgery on another torn ligament prior to the Temple game. However, since arriving in Storrs two years ago, Hunsberger started 30 of her 32 games played over a possible 34 contests. Her stint with UConn ends with three career assists, and although it won’t go down as a recorded goal, her penalty kick-make against USF in the AAC Final a year ago gave the Huskies their first American Athletic Conference Tournament Championship. She also graced us with the gnarliest triple-scissor move you’ll ever see earlier this year against Navy.
Brianna Butler (Rock Tavern, NY), the prototypical “does-the-little-things-that-don’t-show-up-on the-stat-sheet” type of player has also had her fair share of injuries, but has still appeared in nearly 93% (74 of 80) of UConn’s games since arriving in Storrs four years ago. A defensive stalwart, Butler solidified herself immediately at UConn as a premier holding midfielder. Her lone career point came last year on an assist against one of the best teams in the nation, the #5 Florida State Seminoles, who later went on to win the 2014 National Championship. She has started 11 games this season and has logged over 4,000 minutes of playing time in her career as a Husky.
Another defensive specialist on the Connecticut roster is Ruby Fee (Nantucket, MA). She immediately jumped into action as a freshman at UConn, appearing in 12 games in her first season, 19 the following year, and 14 the year after that. This season she played an important role in two crucial conference victories after freshman defender Heidi Druehl (Stamford, CT) went down with an injury against Cincinnati. Fee replaced Druehl just 16 minutes into the match and played the final 74 minutes at right back to help shut out the Bearcats. She followed that performance up a game later with a 90-minute defensive masterpiece against Memphis that led the Huskies to a fifth straight victory and their fourth straight shutout at the time.
Fee was joined on the backline in those two contests by the seventh UConn senior, Eastern Kentucky transfer Annie Wickett (Frederick, MD). Wickett began her inimitable college soccer journey as a goalkeeper for the Colonels, and even made All-OVC Second Team for that position as a freshman, but eventually transitioned to a defender when she joined Connecticut as a junior. She didn’t see much of the field last season for the Huskies, but this year, she has played all but 13 minutes. Her lockdown, instinctive defensive demeanor has propelled the Huskies to eight shutouts in 17 games this season.
Last, but certainly not least, are two Husky seniors that were teammates long before their college playing days began. Goalkeeper Allison Saucier (Rocky Hill, CT) and wing midfielder Liana Hinds (Hartford, CT), both of whom excelled at Loomis Chaffee in Windsor, stuck together after high school and re-joined forces at UConn.
Hinds has been a constant in the Connecticut lineup since she was a freshman, appearing in 71 games for the Huskies since 2012. She has appeared in every game so far this season, tallying a goal and two assists in over 1,000 minutes of action. Over her steady career, Hinds has scored two goals, tallied five assists, racked up nearly 4,000 minutes of game experience and started 24 games. Beyond her collegiate contributions, she also represented Trinidad & Tobago during her time at UConn at the 2014 U-20 CONCACAF Championships. In 2010, she led her U-17 National Team to the country’s first ever win at any World Cup level (men or women’s).
Saucier, one of three team captains for the 2015 season, has been the Huskies high-energy vocal leader since day one. She enjoyed her most successful year in a Connecticut uniform last season when she split time with fellow goalkeeper Emily Armstrong (Collegeville, PA). In 2014, Saucier started 21 games for UConn. What’s most impressive about her junior campaign is that in 12 of those 21 games she allowed zero goals, and in 19 of 21 she allowed one or fewer. “Sauce” has made a total of 61 saves in 32 career games, two of which came a couple of weeks ago in the final 18 minutes of action against East Carolina to preserve yet another shutout for Connecticut. She has also been known to sprout wings once or twice during her career.
These seniors, with the help of a core group of underclassmen, have already given the Huskies their first regular season conference championship since 2005. When November rolls around, they will try and repeat as AAC Tournament champs before heading into the NCAA tournament. No UConn team has ever won back-to-back conference tournament championships.