HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Lady Crusaders were regulars in Orange Beach.
William Carey’s trip to the NAIA women’s soccer championships in November was its seventh consecutive visit – and tenth in the last 11 years – to the Alabama Gulf Coast.
However, this season felt different. After falling by a goal in the NAIA semifinals a year prior, the Lady Crusaders were on a mission to capture the school’s first team national title since the baseball team won the 1969 World Series.
"A lot of really good players and a lot of very good assistant coaches that have come in and laid the foundation,” Owens said. “I think every year you learn one more thing. Just getting to the semifinal last year, we didn’t know what was going on last year. This year we knew what the semifinal was about and what it was going to take. People talk about luck and for us it wasn’t luck of a bounce of the ball or something off the post. Our luck was how the team fell into place. And the right pieces fell in at the right time."
Owens came just as close to winning a national title as a player on the men’s soccer team from 1996-99. The former All-American helped lead William Carey to three national tournaments and two semifinal appearances.
For the last 14 seasons as head coach of the women’s program, Owens’ goal has always been the same. After nearly 20 years at Carey, he’s finally a national champion.
"We played in two semifinals myself and that was always a goal to win a national championship as a player,” Owens said. “I was very lucky that William Carey called. This was my first college job. My entire adulthood really has been William Carey as a player and as a coach. A ton of alumni, guys that I played with, have reached back out to me. They feel like they've won a national championship with me. The first coach of William Carey, Bill Finley, reached out to me. I think from a soccer program, really men and women, I think this is a national championship for everybody. William Carey's been great to me and it's an honor for me to bring something back to the place I love so much."
Following its record season, several Lady Crusaders (21-3) were named NAIA All-Americans.
NAIA Tournament MVP and SSAC Player of the Year Ana Paula Santos and NAIA Tournament Defensive MVP April Stewart were both selected as first-team All-Americans.
West Jones grad Abby Baravik earned second-team honors and Shantell Thompson received third-team honors. Kelly Stubbington and Valeria Miranda were both honorable mentions.
The men’s program finished the season 20-1-1 and fell in the NAIA semifinals.
Two-time SSAC Player of the Year Joaquin Ruiz Cabello was named a first-team NAIA All-American after leading the nation with 22 assists.
Goalkeeper Josh Carpenter and midfielder Michael Conejero earned second-team honors. Guilherme Avila and Joe Guinchard both received honorable mentions.