Pensacola, Fla. -- If you look at the box score of the 2011 Division II Women’s Soccer Championship game, you will find two teams evenly matched in all categories. But it was something that can’t be measured with statistics that proved to be the difference in the College of Saint Rose’s 2-1 victory against Grand Valley State on Saturday afternoon. 

Some would describe that intangible as guts. Some prefer the term heart and soul. Whatever it was that helped them defeat the two-time defending national champions, the Golden Knights had more of it in the title game as they captured the school’s first-ever NCAA team trophy.

With a senior class of seven strong, Saint Rose earned its third consecutive trip to the NCAA semifinals this season, but advanced to the program’s first-ever title game with a 2-0 victory against Armstrong Atlantic State on Thursday. 

While the Golden Knights outshot GVSU 10-7 in the first half, they found themselves down 1-0 at halftime to the mighty Lakers. At the break, they regrouped and never stopped believing that taking the trophy back to Albany, N.Y., could be a reality.

Grand Valley is such a great team and worked their butts off to be here just like we did. But we know what it is like to lose and we took that feeling and used it to our benefit.
-- Saint Rose's Curffari

“We told them that we were in this and that we would break them down and they would catch a goal,” Saint Rose head coach Laura Darling Gutheil said.  “I told them they would get a goal in the first five minutes – I told them they were going to get a goal.”

Less than three minutes into the second half, sophomore forward Carmelina Puopolo made her coach look like a fortune teller. About seven minutes later, Puopolo followed it up with a second score as the Golden Knights took a lead they would never relinquish.

“When we come out, we come out hard,” Puopolo said.  “We never gave up and that’s the main reason we won.”

Plagued by injuries all season, including three ACL tears to key players, Darling was forced to rework starting lineups weekly, but it also gave the Golden Knights the feeling they could overcome anything.

“They came out at halftime believing – they believed that they could do this,” Darling Gutheil said. “They could have easily given up, but they fought back and I think that was a result of us overcoming so many obstacles during the season.  We’ve had a lot of injuries and I’ve played them all over the place. This group is all about the team – not about one individual – but what they can collectively do as a team.”

Ending their season in the NCAA semifinals in each of the last two years, the Golden Knights had no intentions of letting the chance of a lifetime to escape without the ultimate reward.

“This was possibly one of the most intense games we’ve ever played in,” senior midfielder Christina Curffari said. “Grand Valley is such a great team and worked their butts off to be here just like we did. But we know what it is like to lose and we took that feeling and used it to our benefit. They had never experienced the losses that we have and I think that pushed us through all of this to get where we are right now.”

GVSU had multiple opportunities to tie the score after Saint Rose took the lead at 55:05, but nothing ever materialized for the Lakers, who lost their first NCAA postseason contest following a 14-game unbeaten streak. 

“At this point, it is about guts and glory and fighting hard and mental strength,” GVSU head coach David Dilanni said.  “Our kids did a good job – I was happy. It was just unfortunate we gave up that second goal. We had plenty of chances to score not only the second goal, but a third.”

“By the end – both teams – the girls had been playing their guts out for a month,” Darling said.  “They had a hard postseason stretch. At the end, it was just all heart and soul.”

For Cuffari – and fellow seniors Nicola and Gianna D’Errico, Kimberly Morton, Derith Fernandes, Brittany Godin and Aoife Herbert – it was a picture perfect ending to their stellar careers.

“We’ve been through the ups and the downs,” Cuffari.  “It is not every day you find seven girls that are able to be best friends in a moment like this and best friends off the field through tons of chaos and conditioning.”