At the end of October, Cal Poly women’s soccer team completed a historic 2020-2021 season by splitting the Big West Conference regular season title with UC Irvine for the first time since 2013.
After being selected to finish seventh in the Big West Conference preseason coaches’ poll back in August, the Mustangs exceeded the expectations of their peers.
“It’s just people’s opinion based on something they hadn’t seen in two years, so we knew better,” head coach Alex Crozier said.
Beyond clinching the title, the Mustangs registered a 13-8 overall season record, marking the program’s highest winning percentage since its 14-5-1 record in 2009. Adding to the season’s accomplishments was the 24-point total reached in the Big West standings, equaling program records set in 1999 and 2002.
The season’s performance from the program led to five separate Mustangs earning all-conference praise, led by sophomore midfielder Camille Lafaix, who was named Big WestMidfielder of the Year, and Crozier, who was named Big West Coach of the Year for the first time since 2003.
Sophomore forward Nikki Trucco and freshman goalkeeper Mackenzie Samuel were among those selected to the All-Big West second team while junior midfielder Megan Hansen earned an honorable mention. Freshman defender Emma Brown was selected to the Big West All-Freshman team.
“It’s nice to be recognized, but to be honest, it’s the work of our team and the work of our staff,” Crozier said. “It’s a tribute to the whole program.”
According to Crozier, there were at least three to four other players on the roster that also should have made the honors but didn’t. He said it’s due to the fact that the team didn’t rely on just one player to rack up results as “everyone was sharing the load.”
“No one knows outside our program how valuable these players are,” Crozier said.
According to Lafaix, despite not being able to lift the Big West Conference Tournament title, the entire team is proud of the effort that was put in throughout the season.
Through her perspective, Lafaix said she thinks one of the main reasons the squad played so effectively this season compared to years prior is the chemistry that was built over the past two years. Since the COVID-19 pandemic denied the program a 2020 season, a majority of the players have been training and playing alongside each other since 2019.
“I think [the chemistry] was really obvious this season, just because we were all in it together, we all went through the hardship last year,” Lafaix said. “We all came into this season believing that we can win, and I think 2019 was maybe like a little glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lafaix’s eight goals, three assists and 23 out of 36 shots on target were all factors that played into her All-Big West first team selection, but her overall ability to read the game in the midfield proved to be pivotal in clinching the regular season title.
However without the support from her teammates, Lafaix said she feels like she wouldn’t have been as impactful as she was.
“I’m so unbelievably honored to have received [Midfielder of the Year] but I don’t think I could have done it without my teammates,” Lafaix said. “If I just reflect on myself, of course I made sure to work hard throughout last year. I did have a good season in 2019 and I was just hungry to do even better and luckily, I was fortunate enough to be able to do so.”
Sophomore forward Olivia Ortiz said she thinks the reason why the team played so well was the chemistry the team had, saying “we wanted to play for each other instead of playing for a title or stats or anything like that.”
However, the companionship led to the Mustangs closing out the season as the second highest-scoring team in the Conference with 39 goals, equaling the highest number since the 43 goals that came in 2003.
According to Ortiz, the five goals and six assists that she contributed this season weren’t practiced or planned on. Her drive was simply getting back onto the field after a year without play.
“I was just really grateful when I got to go on the field to try to do as much as I could to help my team,” Ortiz said. “It’s really awesome though to be able to make that impact for the team. “Being a representative from SLO and just playing at home is just awesome. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Above all, Ortiz looks back to making Crozier proud as being her biggest motivation to give it her all on the field because he “deserves a team that can give him a winning title.”
“It’s really motivating for us to play for [Crozier], he’s always positive, he’s always like ‘I believe in you guys, I don’t care what any other team says, you guys are number one to me,’” Ortiz said. “He’s just always so positive about our team…and the rest of the coaching staff. We all love all of them.”
It wasn’t hard for Crozier to acknowledge the effort and dedication that the team was putting in week in and week out.
“One thing I did tell the team halfway through the season was that I have been waiting for this team for almost 30 years,” Crozier said. “They have all the parts, the talent, they have a great attitude, they work hard and they’re just enjoyable to work with. I will take that with me more than anything else.”