An Ivy League title capping the team’s first-ever 7-0 conference season. An NCAA tournament appearance. Twelve total wins. A second-team All-American. Three conference individual awards. A total of seven all-Ivy League First or Second Team selections and honorable mentions. The list of individual and team accolades the women’s soccer team accrued throughout the 2021 season is a lengthy one. After a 2020 season lost to COVID-19, the team wasted little time picking up where it left off as 2019 Ivy League Champions. Though this historic season came to a conclusion on Nov. 13 with a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss to St. John’s University at home in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the 2021 women’s soccer team etched its name into Brown athletics history.
The Bears collected a sizable list of individual awards at both the Ivy League and national levels. Head Coach Kia McNeill was named Ivy League Coach of the Year; forward Brittany Raphino ’23 was named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year; and midfielder Kayla Duran ’22 was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. Raphino, Duran and forward Ava Seelenfreund ’23.5 were First Team All-Ivy selections; goalkeeper Kayla Thompson ’21.5 and midfielder Evelyn Calhoon ’24 were Second Team selections; and defenders Cameron Brown GS and Maesyn G’Bye ’22 received honorable mentions, The Herald previously reported. Raphino was also named to the United Soccer Coaches All-America Team as a Second-Team All-American, making her the 13th All-American in program history.
Raphino took great pride in the honor. “It’s an incredible feeling to be recognized at this level,” she said. “Becoming an All-American is a testament to all the work I’ve put in and the impact my teammates and coaches have had on me these last few years.”
Duran similarly gave credit to her teammates for her recognition as Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. “I am really grateful to be able to share this award with my team. If I could give the award to my entire back line (Lauren Hinton ’22, Jessica Hinton ’24, Brown and Thompson) I would,” she said. “I would not have succeeded without their hard work and support, and for that I am just really thankful.”
McNeill credited her Coach of the Year honor to the overall growth and success of the program. “Looking at where this program was six years ago and where we are now is incredible to see. When I took this job six years ago, I knew that this program was a sleeping giant and had incredible potential, and I think getting recognition like Ivy League Coach of the Year is just a testament that the hard work we have poured into this program has paid off,” she wrote in an email to The Herald. “My staff and I have really worked tirelessly over the years to push this program to a new level — recruiting blue-chip athletes from all over the country, developing our current players, teaching the game and just challenging our players to be the best they can be.”
She also took pride in the academic strength of the program. “I’ve always thought that Brown can give players the best of both worlds academically and athletically, and now we can say that we are a top-10 academic institution and a top-25 soccer program,” she added. “There are not a lot of schools out there that can say that, so I’m happy to be a part of one that can.”
For McNeill, in some ways this year’s Ivy League championship meant even more than the 2019 title. “In 2019 we proved we can do it, and we belong. In 2021 we proved that we are building something special with sustained success,” she wrote. “Personally, that is what I wanted to see — can we not only do this once, but can we have repetitive success.”
McNeill emphasized the importance of adapting to pandemic conditions and working to improve the team in whatever way possible. “We came up with an idea to do what we called P.A.C.T. Plans, an acronym that stood for Physical, Attitude, Character, Technical/Tactical,” she wrote. “Each week, we were still doing things that would allow us to bond as a team (which was incredibly important when we were remote), but also allow our team to grow technically and tactically, individually and collectively in ways that we hadn’t done before.”
She attributed the Bears’ success to their persistence throughout the pandemic. “The team was incredible through all of that, and I do think it had a direct correlation to the success we were able to have this fall,” she wrote. “The adversity we face as a team and on the field is nothing compared to the adversity we faced in 2020. If we could get through that, we can get through anything.”
Duran credited the team’s work between the 2019 and 2021 seasons for putting the Bears in a strong position to succeed this fall. “Winning the Ivy League championship this year really was testament to all the hard work we put in during the COVID year,” she said. “It really showed the perseverance, grit and determination that our team had. As a team, we took this time off to better ourselves and our team both on and off the field.”
“The COVID year really showed the drive our team has to develop and be the best,” she added. “Given the adversity everyone faced in 2020 and reflecting on a great season we had this year, I am immensely proud to be part of such a strong team.”
Thompson praised the team’s ability to respond to the unique adversity Ivy League soccer players faced. “Coming back from the pandemic was difficult for everyone, but the Ivy League had it particularly difficult because we didn’t get the spring season that most other schools got. It required a lot of trust in our teammates and individual work in order to stay fit and come in ready once we were finally able to be together in August,” Duran said. “The team has done a wonderful job of staying disciplined while simultaneously taking care of mental health in order to show up as our best selves.”
According to Duran, the team’s recent success has grown its desire to compete at a national level as well as in the Ivy League. “These back-to-back Ivy titles give us the momentum and belief within our team that we not only have the ability to be the best in the League but also (to) compete to be one of the top programs in the country,” she said.
“I get really excited thinking about our team’s future,” Duran said. “We have great energy going into the spring and hope to continue our success in the 2022 season.”
Thompson, a graduating senior, noted that she leaves the women’s soccer program with great pride in her teammates. “It was an honor to play alongside so many intelligent, skilled and amazing women,” she said. “This final season for me was a lot of fun, and I felt like all of our hard work paid off in a big way that made me tremendously proud of this team.”
Thompson knows that the team will have to work hard to replicate its success going forward, but she remains optimistic that it will be able to do so. “We had a massive roster this year of 36 players, so I’m excited to see how the younger players grow into themselves and make this team their own. Despite not getting a lot of playing time, the younger classes have an immense amount of talent that I can’t wait to watch in the coming years,” she said. “With back-to-back Ivy titles, there’s definitely going to be a target on this program’s back, so they’ll need to continue to push each other day in and day out in order to build on the past success.”
Sheyenne Allen ’23 emphasized that the Bears’ disappointment with this season’s ending will drive the team to strive for even greater accomplishments next year. “I believe our expectations for the 2022 season will be even higher than (they have) ever been. As a team, we believed we were destined for a far run in the NCAA tournament,” she said. “The fact that we got knocked out early on was heartbreaking, and we really don’t want to feel like that in the future. That being said, this loss will motivate us and drive us to work harder to ensure that we reach our fullest potential next season.”
“Our expectations are pretty simple: go undefeated in all of our non-conference games, (win) another Ivy Championship and get to the third round of the NCAA tournament,” she added.
McNeill believes that the ability to build on a strong returning core puts the team in a good position for the future. “The fact that we are returning a good core of our roster including the Ivy League Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year is incredible,” she wrote. “The thing I am looking forward to most is the fact that we have an entire spring to train, teach and grow together. A lot of these players have only been playing together for 90 days. Now we have a whole year to train together and continue to gain chemistry, confidence and develop individually and collectively.”
Ultimately, McNeill and her team have NCAA tournament aspirations. “We want to continue to be a team that competes for Ivy Championships, and what I really want for this team is to make a deep run in (the) postseason. That was cut short for us this fall in the NCAA (tournament), and I think that really stung given the talent we had,” she wrote. “The returning group can use that as fuel and motivation to continue to set a high bar for ourselves and make sure we make the most of this offseason.”