By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Catholic University faced a daunting task Sunday in its attempt to go to the NCAA Division III Final Four for the first time: defeat the No. 2-ranked team in the nation that had won 66 in a row at home.
The Cardinals almost did it.
Instead, Cortland (N.Y.) State improved to 20-1 and will appear in the Final Four for the fifth straight season. No. 10 CUA nearly overcame a seven-goal halftime deficit before falling, 13-12, at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
"This is the best team we've ever had at the regional finals and the highest-ranked team we've ever played here," Cardinal Coach Meghan McDonogh said. "It's a real accomplishment and it's a great legacy for our seniors to leave.
"It's a great building block for our returning players."
The Cards saw their eight-game winning streak come to an end and conclude another fantastic season at 16-4. This is the closest they've ever come to advancing to the national semifinals.
"[Cortland] has that expectation and experience, where we don't," McDonogh said. "We're getting there, however, and it's very exciting."
CUA, facing its third straight team in the NCAA playoffs with two or fewer losses, downed previously undefeated Mount Union on Saturday and was facing a club it had lost to by seven goals at home two months and one day ago.
The Cardinals struck first and were up 2-1 at the 19:41 mark when rookie attack Nicolette Crisalli scored off a pass from senior Madeline Wilson. The Red Dragons responded with seven straight goals, two by Elizabeth LaComb and three of Kristen Ohberg's five, to head into the break with a 9-2 advantage.
McDonogh addressed the deficit at halftime: "We talked about we had been in situations like this before. We were down to [Franklin & Marshall] 8-1, so we knew we could fight back. We talked about confidence and poise, and leaving everything on the field.
"We did that today."
Anna Stumme tallied twice in the opening 2:15 of the second period to bring the Cardinals to within five. Cortland restored its halftime lead with a pair of goals before the Cards had their best offensive stretch of the day.
Wilson scored unassisted to ignite a 4-0 CUA run, and Crisalli added to her team-high five goals by converting passes from Wilson and Laura Dunn. When Wilson fed Bosilovic with 14:17 to go, the Cards trailed 11-8.
Lindsay Brophy found the back of the net without benefit of a pass with 4:54 to play to bring the Cardinals to within 12-10. Less than a minute later, Hannah Elmer scored on her only shot on goal to give the Red Dragons some breathing room.
CUA was not done.
Wilson scored on her own and passed to Crisalli for another tally to make it 13-12 with 54 seconds remaining. Cortland won the ensuing draw but turned the ball over. Caroline DiBartolomeo collected the ground ball and the Cards cleared it past midfield but were unable to get off a potential game-tying shot.
"With about 11 seconds left we got it the length of the field, bobbled it a little bit, and I think with another maybe 10 or 15 seconds left on the clock we could have tied it up and made things a little more interesting," McDonogh said. "But it was a great effort."
Wilson led all players with six points (two goals, four assists), Crisalli had five, and Stumme and Bosilovic recorded two each. Clair Schmitzer scored the first goal of the game and had a team-high six draw controls. Tricia Pehnke played the entire 60 minutes in goal and notched 10 saves. She was one of eight seniors playing their final game in a Cardinal uniform.
One of the Best Programs in the USA
The Cards confirmed this season they could play with any club in the country. They played six games against Top 20 teams – four in the Top 3 – and defeated two of them. Playing on No. 15 York's (Pa.) home field on the first day of April, the Cardinals walked away with a 12-5 victory.
CUA also won its seventh Landmark Conference championship and helped the athletic department capture its second Presidents' Trophy, emblematic of the league's best all-around program. And for the fourth time in school history, the Cards were one of the final eight teams in the country.
All of this success – including its first win over a No. 1 team – has come during McDonogh's eight-year tenure.
"Even more so than our great record and the fact that we played some good teams and had some really great wins," McDonogh said, "it was more that we got better every single day."
Chris McManes has been writing about CUA athletics since 1986.