It's only fitting that a high school fall soccer season unlike any other limped to the finish line — and there was plenty of doubt it would even get there.
A usual high school fall season concludes play the weekend before Thanksgiving. However, various state association responses to the COVID-19 pandemic kept the fall 2020 season alive into the second week of December. It all finally came to a close Saturday, Dec. 12, around 6:30 p.m. when Indian River edged Newark Charter School 2-1 for the Delaware Division II state title. But there was plenty of drama leading up to the final.
The rising number COVID cases in late November resulted in one state halting play just before postseason, and Delaware made it just under the governor’s deadline. Delaware Gov. John Carney, on Dec. 3, announced a stay-at-home advisory starting Dec. 14 and running through Jan. 11, which allowed for the final week of high school soccer to be played.
So, on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in Dover, Del., where temperatures reached a high of 65, Appoquinimink dethroned 10-time defending state champion Salesianum in the Division I final, followed by Indian River’s season-closing Division II title.
As indicated in September, TopDrawerSoccer — which continued weekly ranking updates by grouping teams instead of giving hard ranking positions — would wait to the end of the season before unveiling its final SIMA FAB 50 for the fall 2020 season.
And the winners are … in Ohio!
St. Ignatius (Ohio) boys, after sharing the FAB 50 title with St. Benedict's Prep (N.J.) in 2019, emerges as the FAB 50 champ for the fall 2020 season. St. Ignatius went 21-0 and won a second straight Ohio Division I state title with a team loaded with underclassmen. St. Benedict’s, which had won at least a share of the last three FAB 50 crowns, did not field a high school team this fall, instead choosing to play as a club soccer team.
St. Ignatius edged Mount St. Joseph (Md.) for the top spot. Senior-heavy Mount St. Joseph, with several NCAA Division I signees, was making a bid for the No. 1 spot before its modified league halted play in late November. The rest of the top five are William Hall (Conn.), which ends as the highest-ranked Connecticut team in the 21-year FAB 50 history, perennial Wisconsin state champion Milwaukee Marquette (Wis.) and Lewisburg (Pa.).
On the girls side, Strongsville (Ohio) lived up to its name and the preseason hype by capturing the program’s first FAB 50 title. A loaded lineup, where every starting senior has signed with an NCAA Division I school, carried Strongsville to a 20-0 season. Strongsville finished ahead of Noblesville (Ind.), Eastern (N.J.), [St. Anthony’s ny-w] (N.Y.), Winchester (Mass.) and Mars (Pa.).
State association responses to the pandemic ranged from starting on time and as scheduled to postponing the fall season to the spring of 2021. Coupled with the fact that schedules were reduced in most states and out-of-state travel was prohibited - thus limiting the all-important point-of-reference play, TopDrawerSoccer made the early decision to offer a list of top teams each week without assigning a ranking number. Both St. Ignatius and Strongsville started the season grouped in the “Top 5” teams.
Throughout the season, teams could move between the Top 5, Next 5 and Top 11-25 ranking groups. All of this was done with an eye toward delivering as thorough as a final FAB 50 as possible, given the circumstances.
Other ranking organizations simply offer a list of teams with win-loss records, and in this year, released “final” rankings prior to the end of the fall season and omitted elite teams and, in some cases, entire states.
By contrast, the final FAB 50s include capsules on the Top 25 teams that provide insight into the key results and quality of players by listing signings and commitments, in addition to club connections.
Some of the most notable programs acknowledged in the FAB 50 that were not found elsewhere include St. Anthony's (N.Y.) girls, who with four senior Division I signees, delivered a perfect season and another Catholic League title in New York; Albertus Magnus (N.Y.) girls, with two senior Division I signees and five underclassmen with Division I offers; Mount St. Joseph (Md.) boys, which went undefeated carrying a roster with four NCAA Division I signees or commitments and two more expected this month; Appoquinimink (Del.) boys, the Delaware upstart who knocked off Salesianum (Del.) for the state title; and, of course, Pennington School (N.J.), whose boys and girls were perfect in limited play as opponents dropped them from the schedule. Pennington's boys lineup features players committed to Wake Forest, North Carolina, Penn and Lafayette, and the team was pegged as a FAB 50 No. 1 contender. Pennington's girls team, which had knocked off the state media’s preseason girls No. 1 squad 2-0, confirmed eight college commits in the starting 11 before Nov. 15, with more to come.
Now that the fall season has finally come to an end, our attention will move toward postseason player honors for the fall, and the pending winter season, which is having its own unique set of issues as those seven states try to navigate high school play.