USA South Crowns Two Champions
The soccer team also decided to show up in the second half.
Christopher Newport's undefeated side scored a minute into the second half, and generally controlled the period with the Captains' football team roaring at every turn of the final against North Carolina Wesleyan. CNU held on for a 1-0 win at the Smith River Sports Complex, which hosted both the men's and women's tournaments for the third straight year.
"We go to all their games, and they go to all our home games," said Winston Mattheison, the MVP of the tournament who scored the game-winner for the Captains. "When they came, it got us pretty pumped up to play."
Shenandoah University completed a remarkable run in the women's bracket, as the No. 2 seed upset top-seeded Christopher Newport 1-0 in the final after beating Averett in penalty kicks in Friday's semifinal. The win gives Shenandoah an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament that it probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
In the men's final, North Carolina Wesleyan (7-5-6 overall) controlled much of the first half - a bit of a surprise given CNU's unblemished regular season.
But when the football team showed up after beating Ferrum to cheer on the Captains (17-0-1), the game turned.
Captain forward Winston Mattheison flicked on a free kick from Sean Moriarty just inside the far post to a roar from the football players and accompanying CNU fans, and the momentum was all Captains from there.
"I think we just needed to make a little bit of an attitude adjustment" (at halftime), Christopher Newport coach Steve Shaw said. "...At halftime we said, ‘Look, we're gonna start the game again - everybody can go in there with their own game and their own rhythm.'" Mattheison also scored in last year's tournament final for Christopher Newport at the SRSC. "Winston is a big-game player, and I think that that's what you need in order to win a championship," Shaw said. "He's broken almost every record that we have at CNU, and probably that includes scoring game-winning goals."
UNC-W, playing for its NCAA Tournament life since it had no hope of an at-large bid, struggled to create chances for most of the second half. But it also managed to keep CNU off the board despite some excellent chances. Bishop goalkeeper Alberto Faisca made several outstanding sprawling saves to keep his team in it.
That allowed UNC-W to make the game interesting in the final few minutes. Julian Mingo-Gonzalez's shot with five minutes left clipped the top of the crossbar; Adama George hit a ball from 25 yards out that went just wide a minute later; and another strike by Mingo-Gonzalez went out for a corner with one minute on the clock, but the Patriots cleared it without issue.
"They got that goal on the free kick in the first minute of the second half, and I think that gave them the momentum," UNC-W coach Frankie Taal said. "CNU is a good team. You have to really get them out of their rhythm, because once they get that momentum and confidence, they're one of the best teams in the country."
The Captains move on to the NCAA Division III tournament, where they have made the Elite Eight three of the past five years.
"I think this is our most dangerous team," Shaw said. "I think that this team has seen more than any other team. They've won more games than any other team. I think they have seen more downfalls, and have had the heartbreaks to now move through and overcome that kind of adversity and be more successful than any other team."
Shenandoah's win on the women's side also went down to the wire.
The game was played fairly evenly over the first 60 minutes - perhaps even slightly in favor of Christopher Newport (11-8-1), though neither team had many clean looks at goal.
But the Hornets (15-6-1) finally found a path to the frame off a set piece.
The 40-yard cross from the right side bounced before keeper Meghan Gumbs came off her line to punch it away. But a Hornet attacker put the ball right back into the mix behind Gumbs, and forward Amber Womack hammered it home from the goal line with 20:57 remaining.
"I didn't think either one of us was gonna score from the run of play," CNU coach Ruth Keegan said. "We both have lethal players on set pieces - ones that can serve it and ones that can finish. Unfortunately, they finished."
The goal seemed to pump even more life into Shenandoah, which had several other excellent opportunities in the waning minutes.
"Once we had that, and knowing that, ‘Yeah, we will win this,' we knew what we had to do," Womack said.
Christopher Newport had a dangerous free kick from 40 yards out with around 3 minutes remaining, but goalkeeper Kat Terza, the MVP of the tournament, grabbed the cross with ease.
Shenandoah won in its last ever USA South tournament, as it will move to the ODAC conference next year.
"There's no question we wanted to leave the USA South with a bang," Shenandoah coach Liz Pike said. The USA South, meanwhile, has no intentions of leaving the SRSC anytime soon. "We don't have any interests in moving anywhere right now, so I think so far so good to have it right here," USA South Assistant Commissioner Mike Christie said.
Christie added that the conference is in discussions about bringing the conference's volleyball tournament to Martinsville as well.
That would be a welcome addition to the SRSC, especially if the complex can profit from these tournaments. Bily Russo, the complex's director of operations, is hopeful that it at least broke even on the soccer tournament this year after losing some money a year ago, he said.
"I think we're in good shape, and if we're even close to breaking even then I think that's a positive sign going forward," Russo said. "This tournament, what it does for us is, when I go out and recruit other events, we say, ‘Hey, we're home to the USA South conference championship, we've hosted it three years in a row to successful reviews.' That trumps a lot of the shortcomings."