After the Misericordia University women's soccer team lost in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament to Amherst, Coach Mark Stauffer set before his team the goal of making it to the 2012 NCAA Final Four in San Antonio, TX.
Today, the Cougars achieved that goal, earning a 2-0 victory over Brandeis College in the NCAA Elite Eight at Ithaca College's Carp Wood Field.
This means a lot to this program, said Stauffer following the historic victory. We talked after the Amherst loss last season about the commitment to working for a year to get to the final four this year. I think this is awesome for the institution and for all of our student athletes. It lets them know that this can happen- that if you believe in it and work at it enough, the sky's the limit.
Despite playing on tired legs after two overtimes against Ithaca the day before, the Cougars controlled the play early in the game, and in just the fourth minute, Megan Lannigan finished a cross from Erin McGreal for her 10th goal of the season to give the Cougars an early 1-0 lead.
Erin and I have been practicing that cross from down the sideline all season, said Lannigan. We've been waiting for that perfect opportunity to come, and we were able to execute when it counted.
The Cougars continued to control play for the majority of the half. However, the Judges made a strong surge in the final ten minutes, nearly scoring when Dara Spital beat the Cougar defense and set a shot off the outside of the right post.
MU had a 9-6 advantage in total shots in the first half, but Brandeis held a 4-1 advantage in shots on goal.
The Cougars controlled the second half from the outset, holding an 8-1 advantage in total shots during the period and maintaining the ball on their offensive half of the field. After a Brandeis foul just outside the box in the 62nd minute, senior Laura Roney stepped in and bent the free kick past the Brandeis defense for her 14th goal of the season to give the Cougars a 2-0 cushion.
I've practiced that shot from that spot thousands of times in practice, said Roney. I could hear Coach say ‘that's her sweet spot' to someone on the sideline, and even though we were hoping for a PK call, I got really excited when they spotted the ball. I knew exactly where I wanted to put the ball and was able to do just that.
From there, Maureen Ciccosanti and the Cougar defense held strong to record their 15th shutout of the season, including their fifth in six postseason games.
It was a great match, Stauffer said. The girls worked hard from the start, knowing that we needed to give great effort from the very beginning. We did a great job of possessing and controlling play, and I our defense played very well for us.
Roney spoke about how much this meant to the seniors on the team.
It means absolutely everything, Roney said. There's nothing more that we could ask for to than to go out on top and go to play in Texas in the Final Four. This group of girls is amazing, and I wouldn't want to end my career with anyone else.
With the victory, MU improved to 20-2-2 on the season. The Cougars will now travel to San Antonio to play the winner of this evening's match between Messiah and Johns Hopkins in the Final Four on November 30.
We're looking forward to this, Stauffer concluded. It's going to be one of those matches between two quality sides, and we just need to work hard and play our game. Anything can happen.