PENSACOLA, Fla. – National champions! It sure has a nice ring to it. It has even a sweeter ring to it when you come from behind, knock off the two-time defending national champions, and claim the first national team title in school annals after coming up just short in the national semifinals each of the past three seasons.
The College of Saint Rose did just that Saturday. Sophomore forward Carmelina Puopolo scored twice in the opening 11 minutes of the second half and sophomore keeper Jessica Gerski made five saves and helped direct a defensive unit that kept Grand Valley State, the nation’s top-ranked team, off the scoreboard for the final 58 minutes en route to a 2-1 victory.
“This is incredible. I’m just so proud of these girls. We’ve overcome so many obstacles and our girls did such a good job coming out and doing what they needed to do. They’ve worked so hard and it’s the best thing to be rewarded as the national champion,” Saint Rose head coach Laurie Darling Gutheil said. “It’s such a long run to get here that by time you get out there the girls have given all they have just to get to this point. So once you’re here it just comes down to heart and effort and that’s why we’re sitting here with this trophy right now.”
|More from the Championship|
|Farnum: Heart and soul propels Golden Knights|
Two years ago, Grand Valley State upended Saint Rose 3-2 in overtime in a national semifinal match after the Golden Knights had taken a 2-0 early lead, before the Lakers squared it in the 83rd minute. This time though, Saint Rose came back. The game was fairly evenly played throughout the first half, although the Golden Knights generated a 10-7 shot advantage.
Regardless, the Lakers (20-1-4) got the scoreboard first with 32:25 elapsed. Junior forward Ashley Botts dribbled diagonally from the left side through the box and ripped a shot that went inside the left post for her 20th strike of the year that put Grand Valley up 1-0 at intermission.
However, Saint Rose (24-1-1) came out of the locker room and immediately began to dictate the pace of play. Puopolo first one-timed a left-footed volley that found the corner of the net with 47:49 elapsed and then used some nifty foot work for her 10th game-winner of the year. Puopolo collected a feed from junior back Molly Harpster on the left side of the box, dribbled twice to shake her defender, and rifled a shot from 10-yards out to make it 2-1 Golden Knights.
That is how it stood up as Saint Rose successfully defended its end throughout the final 25 minutes.
“First congratulations to Saint Rose. It was a fantastic national championship game that I think we were all looking for,” Grand Valley State head coach David Dilanni said. “We don’t like to lose but I think it was the up and downs that we expected. We stuck to the game plan, exposed them and had some chances. We changed systems and went into an offensive mind set and tried to get them again in the second half but unfortunately we couldn’t put one in. Soccer can be a cruel game and that’s how it goes.
“I think our kids were ready but maybe it was how the first half ended and maybe we lost some momentum. We had our chances but we just couldn’t stop the bleeding.”
As for the Golden Knights, they’ll spend the evening celebrating the culmination of a long journey.
“We have such a great fan base and family. They run such a phenomenal support system and I’m just so thrilled they could be here to witness it and be a part of it with their girls,” Gutheil said.