Customarily in this column, we take an opportunity to reminisce about some of the great moments in Razorback History. Whether it is the 1964 football national championship, the 1994 NCAA Basketball Championship, any one of our 41 men’s track and field NCAA titles or the numerous unforgettable student-athletes, coaches or teams, revisiting the past helps connect us as Razorback fans and with the proud tradition of our program.
On occasion we are lucky enough to be part of some of those signature moments that help define the future of Razorback Athletics. I have been fortunate to witness many great moments, but this week we are seeing something that has never happened before in school history. Chances are you may not even know about it. But make no mistake it is a significant accomplishment for one of our up and coming programs.
While soccer is the most popular sport in the world, collegiate soccer doesn’t come close to rivaling the attention received by its fall sport counterpart. In many regards, it is one of those sports that can be lost in the shadow of weekend tailgates and the fervor which is college football.
But not too far down the road from Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Colby Hale and the Razorback women’s soccer team were busy this fall making headlines of their own. When Hale came to Arkansas two seasons ago for his first head coaching job, the promise of the Southeastern Conference and a program like Arkansas was undoubtedly inviting, but the challenges that awaited him also had to give him pause.
The Razorbacks aped soccer as a program in 1986. By the time Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, a newly-constructed soccer field stood just south of John McDonnell Field. A year later, officials decided to build Bud Walton Arena on that land and soccer’s new home was moved to its current site just a good corner kick from the Palace of Mid-America.
Through the years, Arkansas has enjoyed moderate success in soccer. A few double-digit win seasons, a handful of trips to the SEC Tournament, but nothing that promised immediate results.
So as Hale started to build his program, he would have to do it step by step. In 2012, Arkansas showed marked improvement. The Razorbacks posted a 9-10-1 record, including earning the first two wins over ranked opponents in program history. Six victories in the SEC helped the Razorbacks make a return trip to the SEC Tournament for the first time in 12 years.
By the time the 2013 season rolled around, Hale had his student-athletes and Razorback fans believing. Arkansas darted out to seven straight wins and earned the first national soccer ranking in school history. Previously, the Razorbacks record for a season-opening winning streak was three games.
Despite the hot start, Arkansas entered the final week of the season needing a win in the season finale against Missouri to secure a spot in the SEC Tournament. Clinging to a 1-0 lead in the closing moments of the game, Arkansas had nearly punched its ticket. But a late goal for the visiting Tigers sent the game into overtime. Fortunately, this team had been there before. In fact, Arkansas has played seven overtime games this season. Once again, they came through, scoring an overtime goal to win 2-1 and advance to the conference tournament in Orange Beach, Ala. It was the first time Arkansas would play in the SEC Tournament in back-to-back seasons since 1999-2000.
The Hogs and the Tigers met again in the opening round of the tournament, but in this meeting it didn’t take extra time. Arkansas dominated 4-0 and earned its first SEC Tournament victory in 17 years. There wasn’t much time to celebrate as the Razorbacks advanced to play No. 1-seed Florida in the quarterfinals. The Gators escaped with a 1-0 win and the Razorbacks were left wondering if they had done enough to take the next step – play in the NCAA Tournament.
For student-athletes, sitting on the sideline watching and waiting is much more nerve wracking than actually competing. And as the Razorback women’s soccer team watched the selection show in its locker room on Monday there was nothing to do but wait.
Many memorable Razorback moments come in crowded stadiums or a sold out arenas with fans calling the Hogs. But in this case, the portrait was a small gathering of young women sitting patiently peering at the screen of the live internet stream selection show. Moments later, everything changed.
Watch the Moment
Arkansas was selected to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Never before had the Razorbacks been included in NCAA post-season play, the only one of 19 sports to never advance. But just as quick and decisive as an Ashleigh Ellenwood right-footed shot on goal, that history was gone.
Arkansas left on Thursday to travel the 183 miles&across US 412 West to Stillwater, Okla., to play the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. It is relatively short drive, but the trip was a culmination of a 28-year journey for Razorback Soccer.
Razorback Road is a weekly column published on Thursdays by Associate Athletic Director for Public Relations Kevin Trainor. Trainor is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and has worked for Razorback Athletics for more than 20 years.