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Fourth Time's a Charm

Cardinal women take the national championship, beating Duke 1-0.

Steve Limentani

OH HAPPY DAY: Teammates whooped it up following their December 4 win in Georgia.

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"I'm not a yeller," says women's soccer coach Paul Ratcliffe. "I try to stay composed and just teach."

So it wasn't natural for him to get edgy with his players heading into the December 4 national championship match against Duke. Truth is, it was behavior manufactured for effect. "I was trying to be pretty hard on them," he explains. "The idea was that they'd be more worried about me yelling at them than anything else."

The anything else was the pressure of the moment—a moment that had been building for four seasons. Three consecutive trips to the College Cup, the final four of NCAA soccer, had ended in defeats.

Not this time. A superb cross by senior Cami Levin set up senior Teresa Noyola for a decisive header in the 53rd minute, resulting in a 1-0 victory that obliterated the specter of the past losses, all of which had been by the same fateful 1-0 score. The triumph, before more than 9,000 spectators at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, finished off a 25-0-1 campaign and added a desperately sought flourish to a four-year record of 95-4-4.

If Noyola had a distinct first reaction to the win, it was "a ton of elation." But the myriad of feelings unleashed by the team's four-season struggle included "a sense of relief, a weight lifted off our shoulders." Ratcliffe admits his immediate emotion was "more relief than being ecstatic."

That said, the postgame celebration was animated, noisy and prolonged. Three years ago, the season ended in the semifinals at the hands of Notre Dame. Two years ago, North Carolina prevailed in the title game. A year ago, Notre Dame showed up again to win the final. "I wanted to break through," Ratcliffe notes. "To be a champion you have to win championships."

Noyola was named the tournament's most valuable offensive player and goalkeeper Emily Oliver was picked as defensive MVP. But from the perspective of the team, Levin was a candidate for both. A versatile performer who plays a variety of positions, Levin was being tightly defended when she lifted the ball to a wide-open Noyola at the far post.

"I'm so thankful for this team," says Noyola, who was one of four seniors along with Levin, top scorer Lindsay Taylor and midfielder Kristy Zurmuhlen. "It took incredible heart to even get back here to the championship game."

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