Immediately after Fairfield’s women’s soccer team stunned Niagara and won its first MAAC title since 1999, players surely would have loved to spout out the ultimate championship cliche: “I’m going to Disney World!”

Too bad they were already there – plus they need to start focusing on the NCAA tournament, which begins Nov. 12.

Fairfield’s victory at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex is the sixth MAAC championship for the Stags, and automatically enters them into the NCAA bracket for only the fourth time in the team’s 14-year history.

But flying to championship play as a fifth place team and taking off again with the trophy was no surprise for the team.

“It was not at all a surprise,” said Head Coach Jim O’Brien. “The team was focused and all business as soon as we arrived to play. It was good going in knowing we had nothing to lose, but we finally put everything together this weekend.”

In only his first year coaching at Fairfield, O’Brien may have proved that he was the right man to fill the coaching vacancy in the off-season.

“Coach O’Brien taking over was something fresh and new for the returning players,” said Alex Caram ’08. “He is a great motivator and really brought the team together.”

The three teams Fairfield upset in the tournament (Iona, Loyola, and Niagara) were all teams they lost to in the regular season.

In quarterfinal play against fourth-seeded Iona, two sudden death overtimes were needed to decide the outcome. Ahna Johnson ’09 scored the lone breakaway goal at 103:20 to propel the Stags into the semis.

” [Ahna] really stepped up for us and played great. She’s been playing hurt…but there were never any excuses,” said Caram.

Sunday’s semifinal match featured the underdog Stags against top-seeded Loyola. Shannon Helm ’06 first put the Stags ahead early, but the Greyhounds scored the equalizer with 30 minutes left on the clock. It looked like Fairfield was headed back to overtime, but M.T. Church ’08 tallied the go-ahead goal at the 80:00 mark.

“I knew if I made or missed the shot the team would be there to support me,” said Church. “As soon as I was given the chance I knew I could make it.”

The upset denied the top seeded team an opportunity to win the title for a sixth consecutive year, and set up a championship game between the Stags, who came in with a 4-3-2 MAAC record and heavily favored Niagara (8-1).

After Niagara got off to a one-goal lead early in the contest, Janna Breitenwischer ’08 evened the score on an assist by Caram in the 35th minute. Again it was Johnson saving the day by scoring her second tournament game winner off another Caram pass to jump ahead. But with 30 minutes still left to play, strong team defense secured the victory for the Stags.

And against Niagara was not the only time defensive play made all the difference.

“The defense kept us in it every game…they were constantly under pressure,” said Johnson. “The wins should definitely go to the D [defense],” she added.

Goalkeeper Brett Maron had seven saves in the title game.

Caram was awarded tournament MVP and teammates Johnson and Church were also recognized with all-tournament team selections.

The Stags will find out their tournament seeding during Monday night’s NCAA selection show. Even if they are pitted against a top-five team, which is expected, they are optimistic and confident in their chances.

“If we play the way we played this weekend, we can give any team we might face in the NCAAs a good run, ” said Caram.

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