Saint Rose goes after NCAA soccer title

Few Capital Region collegiate teams have ever played on such a national stage. Yet, despite the enor

Few Capital Region collegiate teams have ever played on such a national stage.

Yet, despite the enormous task at hand, College of Saint Rose head women’s soccer coach Laurie Darling Gutheil insists her Golden Knights won’t let a few jitters get in the way of their ultimate goal.

The Golden Knights will take on West Florida in the NCAA Division II Tournament Final Four tonight at 7 in Pepin Stadium on the campus of the University of Tampa. The winner advances to the national championship game Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against seventh-seeded Metro State or fourth-seeded

Seattle Pacific.

“I think the girls are very composed,” said Gutheil. “We’re not

going down there to have them be at a new level of anxiousness. That’s not what it’s going to take to win this game.

“We are focusing on preparation. Fortunately, one of my former assistants, [former Union College standout] Missy Matusek, has been in Florida and watched West Florida play. She’s got a great scouting report for us, so I feel we are very well prepared. The girls have a

really positive opportunity in front of them, and they definitely want to take advantage of it.”

Saint Rose (20-3-2) is one of the most tournament-tested area teams in recent memory. A total of 18 Golden Knights were members of last year’s team that earned a trip to the NCAA New England Regional final. The program has advanced to the Round of 16 on three previous occasions (2003, 2006 and 2007) and owns an overall record of 6-5-1 in NCAA tournament matchups.

“I don’t think there is any more pressure in the higher rounds of the NCAA tournament than in the early rounds,” Gutheil said. “What has really helped this team is the fact that they have played one of the toughest regular-season schedules, in terms of quality of opponent, of any team in the country. We also compete in the best conference [Northeast-10] in the nation. I think that experience of handling regular-season pressure day in and day out, and having great success against our non-conference opponents, will help us. Our players have played with more composure and have handled whatever was in front of them.”

Defense is Saint Rose’s calling card. The Golden Knights’ defense is ranked 28th in the country with a goals-against average of 0.71. Junior goalkeeper Shannon Murphy, who did not allow a goal in the first two games of the NCAA tournament, anchors the unit with a personal record of 18-2-2, 59 saves, eight shutouts and a 0.59 goals against average. Her GAA is among the top 20 in the nation, and her 18 wins is a school record.

Offensively, the Knights spread the wealth, especially in the postseason. Nine players have scored in the NCAA tournament. Freshman midfielder Christina Cuffart and sophomore forward Jazmine Farrell pace the balance attack with 21 points apiece. Cuffari has a team-high eight goals, while Farrell has seven goals. Senior forward and Daktronics All-Region selection Kailey Egbert adds seven goals and four assists.

West Florida (23-0-1) is the only unbeaten team left in the country. The second-ranked Argonauts have not allowed a goal in NCAA play, and they are second in the nation in goals-against average (0.25) with 19 shutouts. The Argonauts also are third in scoring average (3.95 goals per game).

Midfielders Shaneka Gordon (22 goals, 12 assists), Marcela Franco (20 goals, nine assists) and Dernelle Mascall (17 goals, 12 assists) combine for a dynamic 1-2-3 scoring punch, while junior goalie Courtney Jones tops Division II in goals against average (0.22).

“Our girls know that we’re not going to give up a soft goal,” said Gutheil. “If they come out with positive energy and play their game, we will be just fine. Not only do we have a great defense, but we’ve also gotten great opportunities to finish off goals in the NCAA tournament. We have scored a lot of first-half goals in the tournament so far, and that’s helped give even more confidence to our defense.

“Our balanced scoring has also helped us tremendously. Our girls are playing off each other, and a lot of people are contributing. We’ve had [nine] players score in the NCAA tournament for us so far, and it just shows how well rounded this team is. It’s a real unified group. They show up every single day to get the job done. It’s very exciting because the girls have played so well as a team collectively. It’s wonderful to see that kind of team effort pay off for them.”

Categories: College Sports

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