Beat ’em, join ’em

The entire women’s soccer team circled around the “21” painted on the near sideline at Sports Backers Stadium, the memorial to Nicole Megaloudis.

They started three months ago by dedicating the season to the teammate they lost in a car crash earlier this year. They ended on Sunday with a Colonial Athletic Association championship.

After beating James Madison in the semifinals Friday, the Rams defeated William & Mary Sunday to win the CAA tournament and earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Dukes and the Tribe were the only two teams to win the CAA championship in the tournament’s nine-year history.

Sunday’s game was a repeat of last year’s championship game in Hempstead, N.Y., where the Tribe shutout VCU 2-0. The two teams also met just last week at Sports Backers Stadium, where the Rams clinched home field advantage in the tournament with a 3-0 win.

Freshman goalkeeper Lauren Hardison, who sat out Friday with an injury, recovered in time for the championship game, but was still a little limited in action at the start of the game. Her play was pivotal throughout.

The Rams came out aggressive with 16 shots in the first half, a number they usually reach in an entire game.

Freshman forward Shelley Lyle, who earned a spot on the 2004 CAA all-rookie squad, scored two goals within 51 seconds of each other as VCU jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 30 minutes. Her first goal came off a cross from fellow freshman Brittain Maas. Lyle, positioned on the near post, used her right shoulder to flick the ball into the upper near corner of the net.

Midfielder Leigh Anthony assisted on the second goal. Anthony gained possession of the ball in the midfield, juked a Tribe defensive player 10 yards down the field and served a perfect cross into the William & Mary box.

Lyle used her head this time, showing precise aim on her header past Tribe goalkeeper Kellie Fenton.

The Rams took a 2-0 lead into halftime, but when William & Mary came back on the field, it looked as though they had two or three extra steps on each VCU player. VCU defensive attempts to clear the ball gave the possession right back to the Tribe.

William & Mary capitalized in the 58th minute when forward Lydia Sturgis struck a shot that deflected off of a VCU defensive player and past an airborne Hardison.

VCU put the game out of reach in the 66th minute. Anger carried the ball into space in the JMU midfield and guided an arrow of a pass to Solfrid Andersen. Andersen, who was voted to the CAA all-rookie team and the all-CAA second team this year, came across the field to receive the pass. She entered the box and fooled Fenton with a quick shot into the upper right corner of the net.

The Rams’ confidence level rose after the goal, and William & Mary never had another serious chance in the game.

The win at Sports Backers was the 16th straight win at home for the Rams over the past two years. VCU finished the season at the Richmond stadium with an 11-0 record. Anger, Parsons, Lyle and captain Jennifer Woodie earned all-tournament team distinctions. Woodie, who was also on the 2004 all-CAA second team, won the award for the Most Outstanding Player at the 2004 CAA championship.

The NCAA Women’s Soccer Selection Show will be televised on ESPNEWS Monday at 4:30 p.m. The Rams will probably be matched up against a regional Atlantic Coast Conference foe.

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