SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The Capital University women's soccer team saw its record-setting run in the NCAA Division III Tournament come to an end Friday in a 1-0 setback against No. 3 William Smith (N.Y.) in a national semifinal at Toyota Field.
"What an amazing journey our student-athletes have enjoyed over the past three months," Capital coach Chris Kouns said. "Without a doubt, I feel they truly have maximized their collegiate experience and will go forward as better human beings because of what the things they have witnessed on our trip together."
In the first half, the Crusaders (19-5-2 overall) put an early shot on goal when sophomore forward Jamie Murray (West Palm Beach, Fla.) made a run down the right side and tried to go to the far post.
The Herons (22-1) tallied in the eighth minute on a great pass to the middle as Krista Longo beat senior goalkeeper Maggie Donnellan (Cincinnati, Ohio) to a spot just in front of the goal, where she placed her shot inside the far post.
Capital avoided a two-goal deficit in the closing moments of the half as William Smith nearly doubled its advantage on one play in the middle and another off a corner kick.
In the second, Donnellan, who was named a first team All-American by the NSCAA prior to the match, made a handful of key saves and the Crusaders held strong in the defensive third. Capital was unable to find the back of the net against the Herons, who haven't allowed a goal since Sept. 28.
With the loss, Capital's best season in program history ends with a school-record 19 wins against just four losses and two ties. After sharing the Ohio Athletic Conference regular season championship with John Carroll, the Crusaders won the conference tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.
After reaching the Round of 16 for the first time in school history with consecutive 1-0 wins over the University of Chicago and No. 16 Wisconsin-Whitewater, Capital punched its ticket to the national semifinals with a 2-1 victory over Thomas More (Ky.) and a thrilling victory over No. 1 Washington (Mo.) by penalty kicks (3-2) following a 1-1 tie.
"Our student-athletes enjoyed a history-making OAC regular season championship by defeating our cross-town rival, Otterbein," Kouns said. "Just five days later we completed the 'double' by defeating John Carroll for the OAC Tournament Championship and AQ to the NCAA Tournament. But greatness still awaited us on our journey.
"From there the journey took us to a very hostile environment in Wisconsin, but the team's belief in our collective journey would not be denied. Yet another historic win in the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament led us to not only a new program win total, but the NCAA Sweet 16. At this point the journey has been long and our minds & bodies were feeling the effects, but we knew greatness still awaited.
"Yet again, these student-athletes took their journey to another new level. Defeating Thomas More in the Sweet 16 and beating the No. 1 team to get to the final four in the country is just what this group felt it was meant to do."
The Crusaders allowed just two goals in the normal flow of play during the postseason. The team hadn't allowed a goal other than a penalty kick in six straight contests and not since Oct. 30, when it defeated Muskingum 4-2 on the road.
In its last two trips to the NCAA Tournament, Capital has been defeated by a team that reached at least the national championship match – William Smith in 2013 and NCAA runner-up Wheaton (Ill.) in 2011.
The Crusaders began the season in early August with a preseason trip to Brazil.
"Our journey began in August when the returning student-athletes traveled to Brazil for preseason and spent time not only playing, but sharing their gifts with everyone they came into contact with," Kouns said. "For a soccer player, there surely cannot be a better place to start your journey than Brazil. Then in mid-August, we picked up our incoming kids and welcomed them onto the bus."
After a 0-1-1 start to the 2013 campaign, including a narrow 3-2 loss at then-No. 5 Carnegie Mellon (Pa.), the Crusaders rattled off five straight non-conference victories to earn a No. 22 national ranking by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA).
A loss to eventual NCAA qualifier Hanover (Ind.) dropped Capital out of the national rankings, but the Crusaders quickly recovered with four consecutive wins.
Following a stretch of two losses in three matches, Capital won four straight to conclude the regular season and extended the streak to nine during postseason play.
"When our journey took us to Pennsylvania for our opening trip to play then-No. 5 Carnegie Mellon, and came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game and nearly win it, we seriously began focusing on the greatness within our team," Kouns said. "Each leg of the journey from that point forward was about harnessing and grasping the power of that greatness.
"Along the way there were bumps in the road but not once did the journey suffer back to back setbacks. Each setback further strengthened our resolve that greatness was awaiting us, and we must get there."
This year's 11-player senior class finished with a 53-27-10 overall record, including a 25-8-3 mark in OAC play. Over the last four years, the Crusaders won a conference regular season championship and two OAC Tournament titles, and reached the NCAA Tournament twice, going farther than any previous Capital team during each appearance.
Despite the loss of a talented graduating class, the Crusaders could return eight starters and a number of other key contributors to next year's squad.
"Although our journey ended today what a wonderful ride it has been," Kouns said. "Their journey together truly was something they will remember for a lifetime and I am so lucky to have been able to witness it.
"As some student-athletes depart the bus and move on to the next part of their personal journeys, the bus still moves on. For those returning players, greatness still awaits them. There are lands we have not yet seen, and now it is their turn to drive the bus for the team to continue its journey and make its mark on history."