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The Lions rebound after legendary coach Kevin McCarthy resigns following 20 wholesome seasons.

At the start of the decade, the Lions were a consistent bottom-half team in the Ivy League. After a nine-win season in 2010, the Light Blue failed to reach .500 three times this past decade, and didn’t reach the nine-win milestone again until 2017, when coach Tracey Bartholomew built an impressive title-contending team that finished second in the league.

Kevin McCarthy, Columbia’s previous coach for the first half of the decade, spent 20 seasons with the team. Despite winning the program’s only Ivy League title in 2006, the team only recorded four or more Ivy victories twice under his leadership. After replacing McCarthy in 2013, Bartholomew aimed to replicate the 2006 season when the Lions won their only Ivy League title. In 2017, the team won their first five Ancient Eight competitions, but ran out of steam in the final two weeks of the season, falling to Yale and tying Harvard. The team finished just one game shy of Princeton, the champion that year, whom the Lions beat 2-0.

The Light Blue produced five All-Ivy first-team players in the decade: Ashlin Yahr, CC ’12, in 2010, Isabel King, CC ’13, in 2012, and five seasons later in 2017, first-team selections Natalie Neshat, CC ’17, and Natalie Ambrose, CC ’18, who was also defensive player of the year, and back-to-back first team selection Amalya Johnson, CC ’20, in 2018 and 2019. Of those five players three were defenders, speaking to the Lions’ focus on defense in the past 10 years.

Since Bartholomew took the reins, the Lions have already reached four wins in conference play three times, more than across McCarthy’s 20-season total. While the beginning of the decade was bitter to remember, recent seasons have lifted hopes for perhaps a second Ivy League title.

Elizabeth Karpen

All-decade team

Bartholomew’s favorite 4-3-3 lineup.

Forwards

Ashlin Yahr, CC ’12

Yahr was the only attacker in the decade to be a first-team honoree, along with two second-team recognitions and one honorable mention. In her career with the Lions, she netted 29 goals and 11 assists in 65 games. However, her career took a downward trajectory. She peaked in her rookie year with 27 points (two for goal and one for assist), but at the end of her senior season, she only saw four goals and two assists on the statsheet. Her struggles partially contributed to Columbia’s offensive difficulties in the 2011 season, during which they averaged only 0.82 goals per game.

Beverly Leon, CC ’14

The winger took over the offense after Yahr’s graduation in 2012. When she first started her college career, she played both as a midfielder and a forward, but she gradually shifted toward the final third of the field. Although she struggled in her sophomore year with no points recorded that season, she quickly rediscovered her rhythm and had six and nine goals respectively in her final two years with the Lions. Leon went on to play professionally in the United States, Iceland, Italy, and England. She most recently played as a striker for Sunderland AFC, but after funding for the team went down she returned to education, studying at Oxford before returning to Columbia for her MBA.

Emma Anderson, CC ’19

Anderson was the most recent machine gun for the Lions. She posted 23 goals and 12 assists in her 65 games with Columbia. She was one of Bartholomew’s favorite attacking options during the Lions campaign back to the Ivy League title, starting all 65 games of her career. Anderson was named second-team All-Ivy twice in 2017 and 2018; her 18-point 2017 season was crucial in the Lions’ title run, but she failed to score in the final two games, and the Lions finished second in the league.

Midfielders

Natalie Neshat, CC ’18

Neshat was Columbia’s starting right fullback until Amalya Johnson joined the team in 2016. She moved up to play on the right wing in her junior year and became a scoring machine. In her senior year, she led the Lions with nine goals, leading to her being named All-Ivy first-team. Her versatility as a defender and an attacker was a once-in-a-decade talent for the Lions. Despite scoring only one goal in her first two seasons, she finished her college career with 14 goals and three assists.

Jessica Shildkraut, CC ’22

A newcomer in comparison to the other players on the list, the sophomore has quickly become one of the best midfielder commanders for the Light Blue. Starting in all 32 competitions so far, Shildkraut is a sniper from outside of the box and a creative passer. She was named to the All-Ivy second-team in her rookie season and recorded six assists for the Lions in the 2019 season. She will look forward to carrying the team in the new decade to a second title.

Chelsea Ryan, CC ’14

Ryan quickly established herself as one of the best players for the Light Blue in her rookie season, where she earned an Honorable Mention on the All-Ivy team. As a defensive midfielder, she was especially productive on the offensive end, and achieved a career highlight on Sep. 20, 2013 when she scored a hat-trick for the Lions. Though only recording 21 points in her career after shifting her focus to defense, she ranks among the best of the decade.

Defenders

Natalie Ambrose, CC ’18

Having been named three times to the All-Ivy second-team, Ambrose finally cracked the first-team in her last season with Columbia, becoming the first Light Blue Ivy League defensive player of the year. With her as an anchor in the defensive line, the 2017 team allowed just 13 goals in 16 competitions. Ambrose’s accolades put her in position as the best player in the decade.

Isabel King, CC ’13

King was one of the only five players to earn first-team All-Ivy honors. The defender did not begin her career with the Lions as a major player, starting in just three of the 17 competitions she played in during her rookie season. However, she gradually established her importance on the team and played in a team-high 1533 minutes her junior season. Her explosive season came at the end of her career, and her personal achievements were a console to the 6-9-1 season.

Kerry Manion, CC ’18

Manion played alongside Ambrose as the centerback of the formidable Lions defensive line. Her defense has been key to Columbia’s recent rise in the Ivy League. She earned second-team All-Ivy honors her rookie season and an honorable mention in 2016. After Columbia, she continued her soccer career at the University of Georgia.

Amalya Johnson, CC ’20

Bartholomew believes that Johnson is “one of the best players in the history of this program,” and her 65 starts in 65 games speak to her talent. Johnson took over the lead on defense after Ambrose, and having played as a midfielder in high school, Johnson is deadly as a right fullback on offense. She was honored by the Ivy League in all her college seasons : honorable mention in her first season, second-team in her sophomore year, and back-to-back first-teams in her last two years.

Goalkeeper

Allison Spencer, CC ’17

Spencer grew as the starting goalkeeper for the Light Blue, solidifying her position as she won honorable mentions in 2015 and second-team All-Ivy in 2016. In 40 competitions, she allowed 32 goals while posting 13 shutouts. Together with the back line led by Ambrose, the Lions had the best defense in recent seasons during the 2016 campaign, allowing 0.71 goals per game.

Changes at the helm

Kevin McCarthy, CC ’85, was part of the Columbia men’s soccer team from 1981 to 1984 during the pinnacle of the Lions’ eight consecutive Ivy League title runs. McCarthy remained a major presence in the University’s soccer program right after graduation, serving as an assistant coach for the men’s team from 1988 to 1993 before switching to the women’s side as the head coach in 1994.

As the second ever Columbia women’s soccer head coach, McCarthy’s 20 seasons with the Lions are the longest in program history, and he and the 2006 team brought home the program’s first Ivy League title since its establishment in 1986.

McCarthy coached the Lions to an overall record of 162-145-36, but he failed to achieve a winning record in Ivy play, finishing with a record of 41-80-19. After successful seasons in the concluding years of the 2000s, the team suddenly fell to two years of losing records as its offense dried up. The 2011 team netted under a goal per game, and the 2012 team averaged exactly one goal. In 2013, despite an improving offense, the team only won one game in conference play, its worst performance of the decade. On Nov. 18, 2013, McCarthy decided to resign as the head coach “to pursue other opportunities.” He now serves as the executive director of Downtown United Soccer Club, a youth soccer club in New York City.

Toward the tail end of McCarthy’s tenure, Athletics hired Tracey Bartholomew as the new head coach of the program. Bartholomew had spent 14 years with Long Island University and achieved a record of 140-112-18 with the women’s team there. Earlier, as a player, she led Rochester to four University Athletic Association titles, and during her early career as an assistant coach at Colgate she helped the team win five Patriot League titles in her five seasons with the team.

“Tracey possesses all the qualities and competencies we expect of a successful head coach at Columbia,” said M. Dianne Murphy, Columbia’s former athletic director when Bartholomew was initially hired in 2014.

Coach Bartholomew transformed the Lions into a defensive powerhouse. Her protégés include 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Natalie Ambrose and Ambrose’s two-year partner Amalya Johnson. In their two seasons together, the Lions’ defense kept opponents to just 0.78 goals per game. During Bartholomew’s first season with the team, the Lions were ranked among the top 10 in the NCAA with a goal-against-average of just 0.52.

Bartholomew also recruited and cultivated offensive talents such as Emma Anderson and Natalie Neshat, who helped lead the Lions’ 2017 offense to highlights like its jaw-dropping 11-0 win against Wagner on Sep 24, 2017.

The team has improved every season under Bartholomew, with its peak in 2016 and 2017, running for the Ivy League title in both seasons. In the six seasons that Bartholomew has spent with the Light Blue, the team has already had three seasons with at least four conference wins. The Light Blue’s overall 47-33-17 record at Columbia is evidence of Bartholomew’s success.

Bartholomew said that her respect for the Columbia program dated back to her coaching days in LIU; when she played against Columbia, she thought that the program was full of talent, and she envisioned a championship team in the near future. She also appreciated Columbia’s academic environment, something that the academically intense coach said she had missed a lot since her student years.

“I’ve had previous stints in getting to be around people that think at that level,” Bartholomew said. “Feeling like you could coach players like that, it was just a great opportunity at the right time personally in my life.”

Game of the decade

The McCarthy years of the 2010s were bitter gall, but the Bartholomew years served up some great memories.

From a fan perspective, the best game has to be the 11-0 blowout victory against Wagner in the 2017 season. The Lions played the game as if they were playing hockey, and even by that standard, it was an incredible score. Striker Emma Anderson scored a hat-trick and dished out two assists; Taylor Duran, Emily Koe, and Maddie Temares all contributed pairs to the scoreboard. The offensive effort was spread out across the team: In total, nine players recorded points. The Lions overwhelmed Wagner’s defense with 31 shots, and despite the goalkeeper’s effort to execute nine saves, the score was still embarrassing for Wagner. 11 goals were the Lions’ highest in a game, breaking the record of 10 goals set back in 1987.

However, both Bartholomew and senior defender Amalya Johnson attributed their best game together to the 2-0 win at Princeton in 2017, a season in which Princeton was only beaten by Columbia, West Virginia (ranked sixth), and UCLA (ranked fourth). The Lions’ victory was decisive in the title run that year, bumping the Lions temporarily to first place in the Ivy League standings. Unfortunately, Columbia eventually fell to Yale and tied Harvard, and were ultimately unable to secure the program’s second Ivy League title.

Nevertheless, that on-the-road win, the Light Blue’s first since 1995 at Princeton, cemented Columbia’s place as one of the top schools in the Ivy League in recent seasons. The Tigers were coming off of a four-game winning streak and only allowed three goals in the previous 12 games. Neshat sparked the victory with her last career goal early on at the ninth minute, and Koe scored just under two minutes later in a similar rebound-off-of-goalkeeper play. The game was also the sixth shutout of the season for the Lions’ monstrous defense, as goalkeeper Sophie Whitehouse blocked eight shots to secure the win.

Staff writer Adam Lang can be contacted at adam.lang@columbiaspectator.com. Follow Spectator Sports on Twitter @CUSpecSports.

A decade in athletics Soccer Tracey Bartholomew Amalya Johnson Natalie Ambrose Kevin McCarthy Emma Anderson Natalie Neshat
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