It was a brisk Sept. 20 when the CUA women’s soccer team took the field for its seventh straight away game, this one against conference rival St. Mary’s College. The Cardinals had come in undefeated — each of their wins by shutout — but the team’s grueling schedule and high expectations were beginning to take their toll, and the women looked like they were simply going through the motions. Outplayed, the Cardinals returned to the locker room at the half trailing the Seahawks by a score of 1-0 — a deficit that left coach J.P. Sousa with serious concerns for his team’s perfect season, as he recalls.
The resumption of play did little to inspire the Cardinals’ confidence, as the Seahawks responded to an early second-half CUA goal with two quick goals of their own, making the score 3-1. With just under 12 minutes standing between them and the first loss of their season, CUA caught a break. Cardinals senior forward Laura Kaye put a head on the ball and drove Elyse Bellardini’s corner kick hard into the upper corner of the Seahawks net, bringing the score to 3-2. “At that moment,” Sousa recalls, “our entire season turned a corner and something just clicked.” What followed was a 12-minute storming of the Seahawks defense and a 4-3 comeback win.
For the Cardinals, the feeling was “nothing short of pure elation,” says the coach. “After that comeback, everything really began to fall into place for us. It was like we could do anything.”
CUA continued to dominate throughout the remainder of their schedule, winning their first-ever Capital Athletic Conference championship and ending the season with a staggering 18-0-2 regular-season record — the best in the history of the CUA women’s soccer program. The team outscored opponents 77-13 and posted 14 shutouts.
“It was an incredible year,” says Kaye. “We were absolutely thrilled to win the CAC championship” — a victory that earned the Cardinals their first-ever bid to compete in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Though CUA fell to Lynchburg College, 3-1, in the tournament’s first round, Kaye says the team put forth a strong effort despite the loss of senior defender Jill Correnti to a torn ligament early in the game.
Kaye set a single-season CUA record with 20 goals and became the university’s all-time leading goal-scorer with a four-year total of 49.
The women’s team showed its smarts both on and off the field. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America recognized the squad for its good grades: a team-average GPA of 3.31. – J.M.
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