CARY, N.C. -- Forget about winners and losers, champions and runners up. It took the heart of a conqueror just to step onto the field here on Sunday.
On Friday, the semifinals of the Women’s College Cup were played in pleasant temperatures that reached the mid-70s and near record highs. That was two days before the final. In conditions that were nothing short of miserable, UCLA and Florida State played to a 0-0 score in regulation before a first-overtime goal by Kodi Lavrusky with 3:19 remaining gave the Bruins their first national championship in women’s soccer.
A few balls skipped across soggy grass, and that created an issue here and there. Other than that, however, both teams insisted after the game that the facility itself held together fine.
Still, it wasn’t so much what either team said that told the true story of the conditions on Sunday. Cheeks were flushed across the board, and UCLA midfielder Sam Mewis sat with her teeth still chattering during the post-game press conference.
“We prepared as normal as we could,” said Amanda Cromwell, UCLA’s first-year head coach. “We actually didn’t train yesterday because it was so nasty out. We’d put so much effort into winning that Friday game, we did a full recovery. The first time out here with the slick grass was during warm-ups. It wasn’t so much the cold, but the wet that we had to adjust to a little bit.”
As disappointed as Florida State head coach Mark Krikorian and senior defender Kassey Kallman were following the game, both refused to even hint that the weather had any real impact on the outcome.
“All of us at this stage of the season know that in December that the field conditions can vary,” Krikorian said. “I think we probably saw as nice a playing condition as you could possibly get on Friday. This wasn’t the worst condition we’d played in. We’ve played in worse than this. I think our kids were prepared for that.”
“The weather and the conditions were the same for both teams,” Kallman added. “I didn’t think it was too bad around the field. We were able to play. It wasn’t like we were slipping all over the place. We’ve definitely played in worse.”
The bigger concern for UCLA as the final game wore on was Friday’s semifinal past Virginia. The two top-ranked teams in the nation had fought to a 1-1 tie in double overtime before the Bruins were able to advance 4-2 on penalty kicks.
The game had been long, and it had been hard fought. How was that going to play out against Florida State, especially as it also went into overtime?
“I was a little worried about that,” Cromwell said. “We mentioned that at halftime, that we were going to have to manage minutes in the second half. Sam and Taylor [Smith] had been working so hard defensively to put pressure on them.
“I was worried we were going to have enough in the attack after spending so much defensively. We got some rotations in there, but really, these girls have been battling for 90 minutes for the past six games.”
A challenge was nothing new for Cromwell and Bruins. They had gone through the past two national champions and the number-one ranked team in the country to advance in the NCAA tournament and get to the finals of the Women’s College Cup. The title was the 110th overall in school history, but the first in women’s soccer despite eight previous appearances in the national semifinal.
“You look at who we had to go through to get to this point and win a national championship, it might be one of the best runs ever,” Cromwell said. “This team is phenomenal, the amount of talent we have. What we brought forth throughout that run was that mentality and resolve. The toughness of those games brought us to this point. I knew these girls were destined to win it.”
Cromwell has set the bar high with a title in her first year right out of the box as UCLA’s head coach. What does she do as an encore?
Win another one, of course.
“That’s the reason I made the move to UCLA,” Cromwell said, amazed at the support the program has received throughout the NCAA tournament. “I now know why UCLA has won so many national championships in so many sports.
“It’s because of the way we approach it with such a professional attitude. It just creates this atmosphere for the goals. They have so much support, and it just helps us get the stuff done on the field that we need to do.”