SAN ANTONIO — The William Smith Herons were in a familiar spot on Friday.
William Smith (21-1-0) competed in the NCAA Division III national semifinals for the 10th time, and the third occasion in San Antonio during the past four years. This time, however, the Herons advanced to Saturday’s championship match-up by defeating the Capital Crusaders 1-0 at Toyota Field.
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“The team has carried the team this year,” Herons head coach Aliceann Wilber said, in her 34th year at the William Smith helm.
Capital, a first-time participant in the semifinals, concluded its season with a 19-5-2 record. The Crusaders competed in their fifth NCAA tournament.
Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. ET game against the winner of Trinity and Middlebury will be the first time the Herons have made the final since 1997, when they were national runners-up. William Smith won the coveted prize in 1988. Competing in their 24th NCAA postseason event, the Herons lost in the semis in 2010 and 2011, both times to Messiah. The tournament, in its fifth year in San Antonio, was previously held at Blossom Soccer Stadium.
The semifinals only score came in the seventh minute of play, as junior forward Krista Long put it past the keeper on an assist from first-year forward Kara Shue. William Smith also broke its season victories record (22 wins) and the shutout mark (20 shutouts).
The game could be characterized as a defensive battle, to say the least. William Smith took 30 total shots, with eight on goal, while Capital had eight total shots, with five on goal. Herons All-America goalkeeper Chelsea Dunay registered four saves, while the Crusader All-American Maggie Donnellan had seven.
Herons senior All-America defender Olivia Zitoli spoke of the difficulty of playing, but also of how her team prevailed.
“The win in the first half was very tough,” Zitoli said. “But, we worked hard, especially on our goal kicks. You could see in the second half it was a lot easier for us to get the ball forward. We had to cover a lot, and we knew they were a good team on the break.”
Third-year Capital head coach Chris Kouns has taken the Crusaders to the big show twice in his three-year tenure.
“I was very pleased for the kids,” Kouns said. “Just getting to Capital three years ago, we had never won a game in the NCAA tournament. We, quite honestly, didn’t have the offensive punch [Friday because of injuries]. We were trying to keep it close and tried to pull the attack.”