After the ASU women’s soccer team’s 3-1 playoff loss against Baylor — coach Kevin Boyd couldn’t help but crack a smile, as he sat down to address the media for the final time this season.
Boyd’s Sun Devils had one of its best seasons in recent memory, and the six-year head coach was satisfied.
“It was a good season as a whole,” Boyd said. “We battled through some things and had a whole lot of young players. We had good leadership from our older players and it took us a while to get things rolling, but once we did, we played very well and ended the season the way we wanted to. “
The Sun Devils started the season slowly, hobbling to a 1-4-1 start, after playing their first five matches of the season on the road. ASU finally earned its first signature win over then-No. 10 Pepperdine 1-0.
The win against the Waves was the first of three straight for the Sun Devils, allowing them to reach .500 (4-4-1) for the first time as they entered conference play.
The Sun Devils quickly fell below even when they lost 3-0 on the road to then-No. 2 and defending national champion Stanford in ASU’s Pac-12 opener in Sept. 7.
The Sun Devils bounced back nicely in their Pac-12 home opener, beating USC 5-4 on Sept. 28 in double overtime in a wild match that saw two Trojan red cards and three goals in the final seven minutes of regulation.
Boyd’s squad couldn’t keep the momentum going, and the Sun Devils lost three of their next four Pac-12 matches to put their record at 6-8-1, 2-4-1 Pac-12 with only five matches remaining.
Before embarking on the final stretch of the regular season, Boyd told the Sun Devils they needed to win four of the last five matches to reach the postseason after missing out the previous year.
ASU ended up finishing 4-0-1 in its final five matches.
The run started on the road against the Oregon schools, where the Sun Devils drew 1-1 vs. the Beavers on Oct. 19, and scored a late winner from junior defender Kaitlyn Pavlovich to upend the Ducks 2-1 on Oct. 21.
The Sun Devils came back to Tempe for their final three matches, first dispatching Utah 4-1 on Oct. 25 in dominating fashion.
Freshman forward Cali Farquharson proved to be the x-factor in the final two fixtures against Colorado and UA, scoring the game-winning goal against the Buffaloes on Oct. 28 with only 22 seconds left in double overtime, and again vs. the Wildcats on Nov. 2 with less than two minutes remaining in regulation to claim victory over the Sun Devils’ in-state rival.
The torrid end to the regular season let the Sun Devils finish the regular season 10-8-2, 6-4-1 Pac-12 and earn a first-round NCAA tournament appearance against Baylor. It was ASU’s third tournament appearance in the last four seasons.
Nine seniors are graduating from ASU this year, including midfielder Taylor McCarter, who started every game in her Sun Devil career and earned All-Pac-12 Second Team Honors this season.
Farquharson and junior forward Devin Marshall also earned honors this season, with Marshall garnering All-Pac-12 Second Team, and Farquharson receiving All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention and earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team.
Marshall and Farquharson tied for the team lead in goals during the regular season with nine, and the formidable duo should return next year.
The Sun Devils’ fourth-place finish in the Pac-12 was their best since 2004, and Boyd is optimistic for the future of Sun Devil soccer — next year and beyond.
“It’s a good start for us and gives us a good indication of where we are heading in the future,” Boyd said.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org