WATERTOWN, Wis. -- A season that began with uncertainty ended with total ecstasy for the Maranatha Women's Soccer Team, as they captured their first-ever NCCAA national championship in emphatic fashion.
A dominant 5-1 win over Randall University in the NCCAA DII National Championship not only etched this team in the Maranatha record books, but it also carved a place in NCCAA history as well - it was the biggest margin of victory in the national championship game in the 19-year history of NCCAA DII Women's Soccer.
The Sabercats worked and sweated all season long, and they were rewarded for their efforts just when it mattered most.
RECAPPING THE RUN
For some, the national championship win really started three years ago on a raw afternoon in Iowa. Up 1-0 in the NCCAA North Region Championship, the Sabercats were just 14 seconds away from their sixth straight trip to Florida when their postseason dreams were unceremoniously crushed in the hands of Providence University College. A last-gasp goal from the Pilots wasn't just a prelude to an imminent overtime loss that day, it was the first in a series of miserable postseason defeats for Maranatha Women's Soccer.
For three straight years, the Sabercats' postseason had just one sound to it: the sound of Providence University College celebrating an overtime regional win on the far side of the field.
But the memories of Providence celebrating would sting a little less by the end of 2020.
It started in the NCCAA North Region Championship when a first-half goal from Taylor Moses lifted the Sabercats to a nervy 1-0 win over Faith Baptist. Maranatha would celebrate the win on their home field, wrapping their plane tickets to Florida in the blue and red trim of the regional banner with their friends and family cheering them on. That win had emotional and practical significance: not only did it secure a berth at the national tournament, but it also meant the Sabercats had finally cleared the North Region hurdle - the hurdle that had left them bruised the last three seasons.
It was all business once the Sabercats took the field at Nationals, as they topped Toccoa Falls College 2-1 in an exciting tournament opener. An early goal from Moses generated belief, and a second-half goal from Alexis Sponable ended up being the game-winner, as the senior sent her team to the one game she had only imagined since her freshman year: the NCCAA National Championship.
Once they took the field in the championship game, the Sabercats' win was inexorable. A three-goal barrage in the span of seven minutes was just a representation of their performance, as the Sabercats upended Randall University 5-1 in the most dominant national-championship performance in the history of the NCCAA DII. Sponable scored two, Moses had the game-winner, Kseniya Hassenplug scored the opener, and senior McKenna Massey stepped up with just three minutes left to bury her first collegiate goal in her last collegiate game.
You couldn't write a better script.
In 2020, the final sounds of the Sabercats' postseason wouldn't come from a group of players at the other end of the field; it would come from their own mouths. The team conquered their postseason fears, and now they would be the ones making the noise in celebration. They would be clutching the banner. They would be national champions.
COACH PILL'S PERSPECTIVE
"This team was able to overcome their anxiety about losing in the regional finals and they conquered that fear of failure," said Coach Jeff Pill. "They grew in confidence as the season went on, and it was amazing to see how they overcame some real challenges. All of the players really stepped up and come together to play their best soccer.
"I think they also grew in their understanding of what it means to be a part of a team and to play their part. They had a really good end to the season by winning the championship but what I was most impressed with was how they improved their play to the point where we could finish with our best effort. We had outstanding leadership by our captains and by players that were significant players but not in that formal position - they put aside some of their personal desires and expectations for the good of the team. It's a really good foundation to build on."
- Record: 6-5-1
- NCCAA Record: 6-1-1
- NCCAA Finish: National Champions
- Notable: First national title in program history
- Notable: First regional title since 2016
- Notable: Alexis Sponable - broke career scoring record (60 goals) and career points record (130 points)
- Notable: Three NCCAA 1st-Team All-Americans - a program record for a single season
At last week's Athletic Awards Assembly, the Sabercats announced their team awards, which are voted on by the team and are based on the team's CORE BELIEF DOCUMENT. In addition to these honors, the student-athletes earned awards from the National Christian College Athletic Association.
A complete breakdown of the awards is listed below:
|CORE BELIEF AWARDS||RECIPIENT|
|Character Award||Gabrielle Torres|
|Family Award||Sarah Bagin|
|Excellence Award||Alexis Sponable|
|Christlikeness Award||Angel Steuerwald|
|NCCAA All-Region Selections|
|Amy Montgomery||Alexis Sponable|
|Taylor Moses||Trisha Wright|
|NCCAA All-American 1st Team Selections|
|Amy Montgomery||Alexis Sponable|
|NCCAA National Player of the Year|
|NCCAA National Coach of the Year|
|NCCAA Scholar-Athletes (JR, SR, GS only)|
|Hannah Evans||Alexis Sponable|
|McKenna Massey||Angel Steuerwald|
|Amy Montgomery||Olivia Vander Pluym|
For more on the program, visit their team page HERE.