With the DI women’s soccer moving largely into postseason play this week, I wanted to compile a list of the sport’s best starting XI across the regular season. There have been plenty of stellar one-off performances or runs of form, but who were the most consistently great players in the country?
I do have to make a disclaimer first, though. At the risk of this XI being filled with too many players from one team or conference (ahem, ACC), I chose to limit myself to one player per team and just two per conference. Hopefully, this allows for better representation of the country’s best players, regardless of who they play for and against.
Here’s my best starting XI for DI women’s soccer in 2022:
G Lauren Kozal (Michigan State)
There were only two contenders for my best goalkeeper here: Kozal and UCLA’s Lauren Brzykcy. The differences in their resumes are minimal, but I chose Kozal because I wanted to recognize someone in the Spartans’ defense, and who better than a goalkeeper that has made 50 saves and allowed just seven goals all season? That’s a goals-against average of .412, the best mark among shot-stoppers who have played at least 1100 minutes.
D Elise Evans (Stanford)
Evans stands out in my team as the only freshman here. Her immediate impact on the Cardinal defense has been nothing short of impressive. She has been as consistent as anyone since the season opener, starting every Stanford game to this point, helping guide the defense to 10 clean sheets and winning two Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week awards. She also gets extra points for scoring the lone goal in Stanford’s 1-0 upset of then-No. 1 UCLA on Oct. 14.
D Jayden Perry (UCLA)
Similar to Michigan State, I felt the Bruins’ defense deserved to be represented in this XI, and if it couldn’t be Brzykcy, I was going to have to choose between Perry and her backline partner Lilly Reale. So why Perry? She’s grown into a prominent role in UCLA’s defense as a sophomore, starting most games this season after getting just two starts in 2021. Her lone goal of the season thus far was the first in a 3-0 win over then-No. 3 Duke. That penalty kick sparked the Bruins’ stellar two-game Tobacco Road trip, which also included a victory over North Carolina that really set UCLA up for the season it’s enjoyed since.
D Tori Hansen (North Carolina)
Speaking of a defender that knows how to score from the spot, Tori Hansen is the Tar Heels’ second-leading scorer on the team with seven, including a perfect 4-for-4 mark on penalties this season. On top of that, she rarely misses time on the field, logging 14 full 90s to lead all Tar Heels in minutes. Hansen has done everything coach Anson Dorrance needs from his center-backs — and then some.
D Maya Alcantara (Georgetown)
Here’s a staggering stat for you: Until Butler scored in the 17th minute of a 2-2 draw against Georgetown on Oct. 23, the Hoyas had not allowed a single goal in 12 consecutive matches, a stretch of 52 days and 1,103 minutes of soccer. At the center of that stretch was Alcantara, starting each game this season and anchoring a backline that boasts the most clean sheets in D-I with 13. Her three assists are just the cherry on top of a spectacular CV.
M Abbie Miller (Saint Louis)
Call it conference bias or a strength-of-schedule slight, but at 18-1 with the lone loss coming to then-No. 4 Notre Dame, the Billikens should probably be held in higher regard than they are. As of Oct. 29, they are just barely in the top 10 of the United Soccer Coaches poll and the RPI. They were left entirely out of the committee’s top 10 on Oct. 13. Saint Louis has a few players who I considered for this XI, but I went with Miller, a midfield rock and facilitator for the nation’s highest-scoring offense.
M Felicia Knox (Alabama)
While we’re on the topic of elite facilitators, Felicia Knox is at the top of the list — literally. Her 15 assists are the most in D-I for a Crimson Tide team that has put up astounding numbers in the SEC as part of its rise to the top of the conference. Alabama is a perfect 5-0 against top-25 opposition and Knox contributed to seven goals in that stretch. Averaging one goal contribution per game isn’t too shabby, either.
M Croix Bethune (Southern Cal)
There are few players more exciting to watch in college soccer than Croix Bethune when she’s on her game. The midfielder is always either the catalyst for a USC chance or the final blow on the end of a Trojans’ offensive move. With eight goals (four game-winners) and nine assists, she leads her team in both categories and contributed over half the Trojans’ goals this season.
F Michelle Cooper (Duke)
Now for the hardest position group to pick from. Forward players often get plenty of praise, and that’s exactly what Michelle Cooper deserves. She leads the ACC in goals (12) and points (33) and is consistently the Blue Devils’ most dangerous attacker when on the field. When Duke has scored this season, the odds are Cooper was involved somehow. Her 21 total goal contributions for a team that’s scored 35 is worthy of a spot in this XI.
F Trinity Byars (Texas)
Byars’ inclusion here is down to not only how consistent she has been for the Longhorns — currently on a stretch of eight straight games with at least one goal or assist, as well as 15 and nine on the season, respectively — but also her clutch gene. Byars is tied for the DI lead in game-winning goals with six, four of which came in conference play. It’s safe to say that without her, Texas would not be Big 12 regular season champions.
F Rebecca Cooke (Quinnipiac)
My final spot is reserved for the country’s leading scorer and most prolific offensive player: Quinnipiac’s Rebecca Cooke. Forget strength of schedule and conference — 19 goals in 16 games is ridiculous. For a stretch of 11 straight games from Aug. 25 to Oct. 12, Cooke scored in every game, including four braces and a four-goal performance against Siena. Add in her seven assists and she is the national leader in points. What a year, I can’t wait to see what she can do in the postseason.
Naturally, there were going to be plenty of deserving players who were going to miss out on my XI. Here are a few honorable mentions — and believe me, some of them would have been included if not for my aforementioned guidelines.
G Lauren Brzykcy (UCLA)
G Cristina Roque (Florida State)
D Laveni Vaka (BYU)
D Lilly Reale (North Carolina)
M Jenna Nighswonger (Florida State)
M Lia Godfrey (Virginia)
M Sophie Jones (Duke)
F Lauren DeBeau (Michigan State)
F Caroline Kelly (Saint Louis)
F Izzy D’Aquila (Santa Clara)