WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Across the field, William & Mary staged a jubilant celebration. The public address system piped in canned pop music; light, energetic, joyous. Players grabbed the water cooler and dumped it over their coach. Moments later, CAA Championship trophy in hand, they huddled together to hoist their prize towards the brilliant sunshine above.
Half a field and a seemingly world away, VCU players milled about, expressionless. They would eventually make their way off the muddy field towards the team bus, waiting outside the nearby fence. There was hardly a glance over at the victory party at midfield. No one said a word.
Earlier, they had stood on the edge of the Rams’ first CAA title in seven years, only to watch it vanish in a blur when William & Mary’s Mallory Schaffer zipped a laser shot into the goal from 18 yards away just 2:20 into overtime.
VCU Co-Head Coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak was one of the last to leave the field, wearing a tired smile. While she was full of pride, it was tough to hide her disappointment. As she spoke, the strain of 93 minutes of coaching and the weight of the moment were apparent in her voice.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “We played very well. It’s going to hurt for a while, but we have a good team and the only thing that I’d like to do is focus on all the positives that happened this year and move on. That’s all you can do.”
For the second time in two weeks, VCU went toe-to-toe with the ranked Tribe. The Rams were every bit as good as William & Mary, and often better, on Sunday, just as they were in a 1-0 victory Oct. 23 at SportsBackers Stadium.
In the second half VCU’s aggressive defensive style wore on William & Mary. The Rams controlled possession and outshot the Tribe 9-1 in the period. Although they did not score, there was a sense that VCU carried a measure of momentum into the overtime period. But Schaffer, who has 17 goals this season, made it a mood point.
What was not lost on Roberts Sahaydak was the remarkable progress the Rams made this season. After three straight non-descript seasons, VCU returned to contention this year. Following a seemingly disastrous 2-7-2 start, the Rams morphed into a defensive juggernaut.
VCU rolled into Sunday’s matchup as a confident bunch. The Rams hadn’t lost since Sept. 25, a span of nine games (7-0-2). They allowed just two goals during that period and were coming off three straight shutouts.
The program appears to be on the rise. Although VCU loses six seniors, the Rams were a young, deep squad in 2011. Top scorers Cristin Granados and Courtney Conrad are both scheduled to return, as are a number of defensive standouts. In addition, VCU proved that its defensive philosophy is for real.
“We’ve come really far this year. I’m nothing but proud to be the co-head coach of this team,” Roberts Sahaydak said. “They gave it everything they had this whole year. Even when we weren’t getting the results earlier in the season, they stayed persistent and believed in what we were doing and put a lot of trust in each other and in their staff and…you win some, you lose some.”
On Sunday, they lost, but there’s reason to believe that the Rams still have some climbing to do.