By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Heading into the 2006 campaign, things were looking pretty good for the Texas A&M soccer program. The Aggies had finished 18-4-2 the year before and had established themselves as the leaders among all Big 12 soccer programs. They entered the year ranked No. 9 in the nation.
“Going into that season, we were returning a really experienced team with some really good players,” Texas A&M head coach G. Guerrieri said. “We had a lot of expectations going into that season, having won the last four Big 12 titles – the last two regular-season and conference tournament titles. We had a lot of things building up.”
Texas A&M would be tested early that year as No. 3 North Carolina would come to town for the season opener. The Tar Heels, who set the standard in the sport of collegiate women’s soccer and had won 17 of the 24 NCAA soccer titles contested up to that point, had never lost in a season-opener up to that point.
“We had had some really good crowds and had a good, long relationship of playing against Carolina, going back and forth, home and away,” Guerrieri said. “Our stadium seats about 3,200 for that game and we had 8,200 in the stadium. It was beyond standing-room only with people crammed into every nook and cranny of the venue.”
Ellis Field at Texas A&M is not your typical college soccer stadium. The stands, which surround the stadium, envelop the field and provide a hostile environment for visiting teams.
“The unique thing about us, especially as compared to the other really good facilities in the SEC is that, rather than having just one big grandstand on one side and emptiness on the other sides, we spread our crowd out and have seating all the way around. Teams come in here and they’re absolutely surrounded,” Guerrieri said. “We purposely built our stadium so that the crowd was close to the action, and our stadium has a steep pitch to it. The energy reverberates throughout the stadium and that’s what we really need. Plus, on top of that, are just all the traditions of Texas A&M and the spirit of the 12th Man. We get a good number of students every game, standing the whole game, singing and swaying. They’re a participant in the action and just up our energy level.”
One of the standouts on that year’s Texas A&M team was junior Ashlee Pistorius, a native of Bloomington, Ind., who would, as a senior in 2007, lead the NCAA in total goals scored (25) and would be named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year her final season in College Station.
“She is a really neat story,” Guerrieri said. “It is the kind of story that shows you how you can take a handicap and turn it into a strength. She was born deaf in one ear. As a young athlete, she played both soccer and basketball. Whereas most kids playing sports have to keep their eye on the ball and can kind of hear their teammates, she couldn’t. So she had to quickly develop her skill set, dribble the ball and keep her head up the whole time. She became a really gifted individual because of this great vision and being so much ahead of what the other teams were doing tactically.”
That would prove beneficial later in the team’s opener with North Carolina.
The two teams played to a scoreless tie at the end of regulation and needed two overtimes to decide the outcome. In the 108th minute, Amy Berend found Pistorious at the top of the box, launching in a pass from the middle of the field. Pistorious found the back of the net to put the Aggies up 1-0.
Because of Pistorious’ special abilities, she was able to score a goal that few players would have been able to register.
“She was one of our slowest players physically, but she was technically gifted and tactically about a page and a half ahead of everyone else,” Guerrieri said. “She had only a sliver of an opportunity to get that ball and turn with it to get the post from 18 yards out.”
But the match wasn’t over like it should have been.
“They had just changed the rules to make it a golden-goal situation in overtime, but the referee didn’t know that,” Guerrieri said. “We scored and then we still had to play out the rest of the overtime to register the win. It was a little bit nerve racking to know we were so close to that win.”
The 2006 Texas A&M team went on to go 9-1 in Big 12 Conference play and claim another Big 12 regular-season title to give the team strong momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament.
“That team won the Big 12 regular season and we were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament,” Guerrieri said. “We won our first two games at home and then we played against Virginia in the Sweet 16. We’ve been to the Sweet 16 10 times, but that was the only time we ever played our Sweet 16 game at home. We scored two goals in that game and the winning goal was scored by Elisabeth Jones, a transfer from Kentucky a year and a half earlier. That put us into the Elite Eight.”
And awaiting the Aggies in the NCAA Regional Finals was none other than North Carolina, in a game that would be played in Chapel Hill. Following their loss to Texas A&M to begin the 2006 campaign, the Tar Heels had gone through the year unscathed and were the tournament’s top seed.
“We were the only team that had beaten Carolina that season and they were looking forward to playing us,” Guerrieri said.
Laura Robinson scored for the Aggies in the 30th minute of the match to send Texas A&M into the locker room with a 1-0 advantage at halftime. Just out of intermission, the Tar Heels knotted the score up at 1-1. Fewer than 10 minutes later, the Aggies got back on the board to go up 2-1. But North Carolina followed with a pair of goals late in the second half to secure the 3-2 win.
North Carolina went on to capture its 18th NCAA Championship that season, with the only blemish on its schedule being the loss to the Aggies in the season opener.
“I remember the night before the national championship game,” Guerrieri said. “I had dinner with the Carolina coaches and they said that the game the previous week should have been the national championship game. They said we were the best team they had seen and we thought so too.”
Texas A&M capped the 2006 season with a 17-6-1 overall record and a lot of fantastic memories. Pistorious would go on to claim the Honda Sports Award in 2008, following her senior season.
“We’ve had some great battles with North Carolina,” Guerrieri said. “We have a great history with them and we have a ton of respect for them. Those were some neat experiences.”