The 2021 DII women’s soccer season is set to kick off the weekend of Sept. 2 across the nation. It has been a while since there was official DII championship action on the pitch with the last game coming on Dec. 14, 2019, in Pittsburgh, Pa. Grand Valley State locked up its fourth national championship in the past seven years that cold, snowy day that seems eons ago.
While the Lakers enter the season looking to repeat as national champions, the landscape of DII women’s soccer has changed a bit. Here are some of the storylines we will be paying attention to in the first few weeks of the new season.
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A new era of women’s soccer begins at Grand Valley State
Jeff Hosler hoisted his third national championship trophy that December day in Pittsburgh. Hosler took over the program in 2014 and led the Lakers to a 144-12-6 record, five national championship game appearances and those three titles. After a 6-1-1 record and yet another GLIAC title this past spring, Hosler departed for Michigan State.
New head coach Jim Conlon is no stranger to championship play. He led Washington University in St. Louis to three championship matches, including the 2016 DIII national title. He is taking over a Lakers team that has finished No. 1 or No. 2 in scoring in each of the past six seasons with plenty of returning firepower in forwards Chantel Carranza and Taylor Reid to lead the charge. The Lakers enter the season at No. 9 but don’t be surprised to see them challenge for No. 1 right out of the gates.
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Flagler opens 2021 season tops in the land
Flagler had a season like no other Saints season before in 2019. They shattered program records while improving from a 12-win to 23-win team and reaching the national semifinals. They now enter 2021 atop the United Soccer Coaches poll, No. 1 in the land.
Flagler showed 2019 was no fluke. The Saints didn’t lose this past spring, going 8-0-2 on the way to yet another PBC tournament title. While it is worth noting that two program legends — single-season goal record-holder Sara Sandberg and all-time assists leader Charlene Nowotny — are gone, the top two scorers from the past spring season — Annie Habeeb and Moa Arlebo — return. That won’t make the Saints schedule any easier, having to contend with No. 20-ranked (and perennial contender) Columbus State in their own conference, but it certainly helps.
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Seattle Pacific, Angelo State find themselves inside top 10
Angelo State nor Seattle Pacific made the last DII women’s soccer tournament in 2019. Despite that, both were named to the preseason top 10, with Angelo State coming in at No. 3 and Seattle Pacific at No. 5.
The Rambelles had an unbelievable spring season. They went 10-0-0 and allowed just two goals on the entire slate. Angelo State took down then-No. 1 DBU in the Lone Star championship game 1-0, closing the season with five-straight shutouts. Casey Crawford and Kira Miller — two of the keepers who played a large role in that shutout success — are both back, but DBU returns plenty. There is no doubt both these teams have Oct. 9, the 2020 LSC title game rematch, circled on the schedule.
The Falcons are also coming off a perfect spring, finishing 8-0-1 with the lone “blemish” a draw with defending national runners-up Western Washington. While Angelo State impressed with machine-like defense, Seattle Pacific was a scoring juggernaut, posting at least four goals in each of its nine games played. The Falcons return their entire starting lineup from last year, including the GNAC’s top-goal scorer Sophia Chilczuk and 2019 GNAC freshman of the year Chloe Gellhaus. The Falcons and Vikings battle for GNAC supremacy will be a fun one to watch.
DII women’s soccer preseason top 25 quick hits
- Only four former national champions are in the preseason top 25: Grand Valley State, Seattle Pacific, Tampa and Western Washington.
- Only half of the No. 1 seeds from the 2019 DII women’s soccer tournament (four) are represented in the preseason rankings: Flagler, Grand Valley State, Mississippi College and UC-Colorado Springs. While UC San Diego has moved to Division I, this makes the other former No. 1 seeds — Bloomsburg, Minnesota State and Saint Rose — must-watch soccer early on to see how they respond to the time away.
- Three conferences are represented by three teams apiece in the top 25: the Great Northwest Athletic, Gulf South and Mountain East Conferences. Both the GSC and the Lone Star Conference have a pair of teams in the top 10. These will certainly be the conferences to watch when the season opens.
- Saint Rose is surprisingly on the outside looking in for the start of 2021. The Golden Knights are once again the coach’s pick to defend their 2019 NE10 crown after making it all the way to the national semifinals for the seventh time in program history — four of which came in the last decade. Saint Rose returns four starters from that semifinals team — and all three key reserves that appeared in that match — so there seems plenty left to make another annual Saint Rose run to the tourney.
- No. 11 Northwest Nazarene is one of six teams in the preseason rankings that did not lose a game this past spring. The Nighthawks were impressive, going 11-0 and allowing just five goals including a 1-0 victory over Division I Idaho State. Flagler, Mississippi College, Angelo State, Seattle Pacific and Tampa were the other top 25 teams without a loss in 2021. Let's see how long those unbeaten streaks last in 2021.