When it was all over, they locked arms in a circle, a gesture that projected stability as much as sisterhood.
The University of Mary Washington women's soccer team's run to their first Capital Athletic Conference championship since 2009 had to feel a bit disorienting to all those involved. The Eagles entered preseason training with a new head coach, growing pains apparent as they limped to a 5–8 mark following a loss at York (Pa.) College on Oct. 12.
“It was a game we outshot them, outplayed them and they got lucky to be honest,” senior Brielle Mitchell recalled.
But it was also a turning point, after which the Eagles were determined to make their own fate. Entering the CAC tournament as a three-seed, UMW shocked national No. 7 CNU 1–0 in Newport News on Wednesday to advance to Saturday’s final.
Fourth-seeded York had hardly disembarked from the team bus before they trailed by two goals, and UMW added a pair of second-half tallies to cement a 4–0 victory at the Battleground Athletic Complex. With the win, the Eagles (11–10) clinch a berth in the Division III NCAA tournament, whose field will be set Monday at 1 p.m.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and it only took about two weeks for me to see the potential,” said first-year Eagles coach Scott Gerseny, a former JMU assistant. “But they just had to believe.”
Freshman Mikaela O’Fallon fueled the Eagles’ faith when she corralled a pinpoint pass from Abby Zimmerman in the third minute and deposited a left-footed finish in the back of the net. O’Fallon finished with two goals and an assist.
Three minutes later, Mitchell scored off an O'Fallon cross to make it 2–0.
From kickoff on Saturday, longtime York coach Vicki Sterner saw a different UMW side than the one her Spartans managed to split with during the regular season. It wasn’t that the Eagles employed drastically different tactics or formations in the teams’ third matchup.
“I think they were just really pumped up,” Sterner said.
The Eagles’ energy crescendoed as the clock wound down and peaked amidst a dogpile at midfield following the final buzzer. Braving chilly temperatures, players stripped off their jerseys to don dark blue CAC champion T-shirts, a wardrobe choice that seemed unattainable just weeks ago.
For a senior class that remained intact despite uncertainty and upheaval during the offseason, Saturday’s championship served as a testament to staying power.
“Every time we step on the field we know this could be our last game,” Mitchell said. “We just want to work as hard as we can so it won’t be. We don’t want to retire.”