Only moments had passed since losing 4-0 to Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and members of the Fairfield women’s soccer team gathered together with tears and disappointment over an ended season.

But the feelings of defeat were quickly replaced with thoughts of accomplishment and satisfaction, and more importantly, optimistic outlooks of a promising future.

Tenth ranked Duke’s high-powered offensive was just too much for Fairfield, who was out-shot 21-0.

“We’re talking about the ACC and Duke, the history, legacy, and all that goes with it. That’s difficult to top,” said Fairfield Head Coach Jim O’Brien, who in his first season got the program back on its feet and all the way to the NCAA tournament. “[Duke] was a class act…top notch and very athletic.”

“It was a tough game, we hung with them in the first half, but I guess we just got worn down,” said Ahna Johnson ’09, who was the Stags’ second leading scorer with five goals and three assists for 13 points this season.

Duke Head Coach Robbie Church was also impressed with Fairfield’s performance.

“Congrats to Fairfield. They did a nice job of making it difficult for us,” said Church. “We made some adjustments and it opened up the game for us.”

Minutes before the end of the first half, Blue Devil Rebekah Fergusson headed a corner kick past Stag keeper Brett Maron ’08, which eventually stood to be the game-winner. A change in Duke’s offense in the second-half led to three more unanswered goals.

Despite the score, Maron was superb in goal with 10 saves. Maron’s exceptional play this season backed up O’Brien’s early season boast that Fairfield “might have the top goalkeeper in Division I women’s soccer.”

Duke lost to No. 22 Yale in the second round of the NCAA tourney. Yale broke a 1-1 tie with one second remaining in regulation to advance.

Just by finishing the regular season with a 7-6-3 record (4-3-2 MAAC), the Stags made a vast improvement from 2004’s finish of 5-13-1 (4-4-1 MAAC).

But it was postseason play that really made this season stand out from the last.

In the MAAC tournament, Fairfield upset fourth seeded Iona in the quarterfinals, top-seeded Loyola in the semifinals, and second seeded Niagara in the finals.

From a fifth seed start, Fairfield became the lowest seed to win the title in the league’s 14-year history. Winning the MAAC automatically propelled Fairfield to its fourth NCAA appearance.

“They went 5-13 last year, so I’m just happy in the end that the kids that have been here, struggled and haven’t had a lot of success got just that,” said O’Brien. I’m happy to see all of them with the success they deserve.”

And the success Fairfield earned this season only adds promise to the future.

“I definitely think the program is here to stay. We’ve got a very good group coming back, and now the big thing is the effect it has on recruiting because you’re a NCAA tournament team,” said O’Brien. “It’s huge.”

Fairfield will be graduating only four seniors this spring, most notably Shannon Helm, who tallied four goals and five assists this season, and Megan Mones, a top mid-fielder and defender.

The core of next year’s team will be sophomores and juniors, and the majority of top performers and contributors will only be in their second and third seasons of collegiate action. Four of the five top point getters – Johnson, Alex Caram ’08, Janna Breitenwischer ’08, and Laura Mrowka ’07 – will be back next year.

Key defenders M.T. Church ’08 and Betsy Nyman ’07 will also return to solidify the backfield in front of Maron, who was in goal for all 20 games, allowing just 22 goals for a minuscule 1.05 goals-against-average.

Younger Stag players gaining so much experience early on should be a huge advantage in the seasons to come.

After the game, Maron was at a loss for words when trying to describe the season’s positive finish and the impact it will have on the years ahead, so she was frank, and to the point.

“We’ll be back next year,” she confidently said. “We’ll win the MAAC.”

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