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In 2012, Clemson women’s soccer won only one ACC match. Following that season, Claire Wagner, a very highly-rated recruit from Cary, N.C., who had played with the United States U17 National Team, committed to play soccer at Clemson.
“I actually was not even looking at Clemson,” she admitted. “I was deciding between Duke and Virginia. But I had Eddie Radwanski as a coach at the Olympic Development Program, and he convinced me to come for a visit.”
Some of Wagner’s coaches and soccer peers were confused by her decision to play for a program that had not enjoyed a winning season since 2007.
“On my visit, I spent six or seven hours with the coaching staff and they told me their plan for rebuilding the program, and I absolutely loved it. There was not one thing I didn’t like about Clemson, the soccer program or the people. The campus felt like home.”
The main thing that Radwanski and the staff sold to Wagner was that she could be a part of something special at Clemson and help bring the program back to national prominence. That was something she could not do at a place like Duke or Virginia.
“I wanted to be able to rebuild a program and be a part of something like that. I wanted to see how much success we could have. My club coach was one of my biggest supporters throughout the process. I thought I could leave the program better than I found it.”
Wagner and the rest of her highly-touted recruiting class stepped on campus in the fall of 2013, and since then, the women’s soccer program has achieved the success that Radwanski envisioned they could have when he was recruiting Wagner.
In 2013, the team won seven matches. In 2014, the Tigers improved their victory total to 13, and in 2015, the team won 14 matches and rose all the way to No. 1 in the RPI. Clemson was No. 170 in the RPI in December 2010 when Radwanski took over the program.
In 2015, Clemson made the NCAA Tourney for the second straight year, but it was eliminated in the second round on penalty kicks. Every season that Wagner has been a Tiger, Clemson has taken another step towards a title. This season is her last chance to advance the program even further before she hangs up her Clemson jersey for good.
“Last year, we made the ACC Tournament and we wanted to win it all, but we didn’t. Both years that we’ve been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament, it’s been on penalty kicks. So we’ve really tried to focus on winning the game within the game. We want to finish.”
Wagner’s attitude toward this season is representative of the new culture that has come to define the Tiger women’s soccer program. This is a team that nearly six years ago was at the bottom of NCAA women’s soccer, and now that it is at the top, it never wants to go back to where it was.
“Coming in, our class wanted to rebuild this program and leave it better than it was. We’ve tried to create a family environment and atmosphere. We know the culture of a team leads to its success. Our biggest goal is that the culture continues after we leave.”
Four years ago, Wagner and the 10 other players in her class bought into Radwanski’s vision and committed to Clemson. Now as seniors, they have accomplished more than anyone expected. In their final season together, their goals are as high as ever.
“This year, we want to win the ACC Tournament and reach the College Cup. We have our sights on an ACC championship and a national championship. We’ve put in the work this summer and this preseason, and we are willing to do whatever it takes to get to that next step and win a championship.”
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