The Lady Cavs, who began the season with a 4-5 record, have won nine games in a row and are playing their best soccer of the season entering today’s national tournament game against Muskegon (Mich.).
ALBANY — The Darton women’s soccer team doesn’t need to reach far for motivation these days.
It’s there each time the Lady Cavs take the practice field, pushing them through extra sprints and driving them forward through the pain.
“Every fitness, every drill, we think, ‘This one’s going to beat Brevard,’ ” sophomore Kimberly Treutel said.
They’ve bottled the motivation since a 2-0 loss to Brevard Community College (Fla.) nearly a month ago, constantly hoping to get another shot at the nation’s No. 1 team and always finding that extra step they hope will help them outlast the Lady Titans.
“Whenever fitness came, we were like, ‘This is for Brevard. This is for nationals,’ ” Darton freshman Stephanie Anes said. “It was our motivation to get there.”
Now they are here and on the cusp of the national tournament with a chance to avenge that Sept. 15 loss.
Darton, which finished runner-up in the nation last season with a 1-0 loss to Tyler (Texas) in the title game, opens this year’s national tournament at 9 a.m. today against Muskegon Community College (Mich) in Melbourne, Fla.
The Lady Cavs will get their shot at Brevard at 9 a.m. Wednesday in a game that will likely decide the winner of Pool A — which is made up of Darton (13-5), Brevard (13-1) and Muskegon (8-4-1).
Each winner of the four pools will play in the semifinals on Friday.
Brevard opened pool play Monday with a 2-0 win against Muskegon — a first-year program that lost its region title but got in the tournament after a region champion became ineligible.
The Lady Cavs can’t overlook Muskegon today, but their season will end if they can’t knock off Brevard on Wednesday.
“(Beating Brevard) is a huge task, but we are good enough,” Lady Cavs coach Ken Veilands said. “We just have to make sure we are doing the right things to prepare for it and play the best we can play.”
Treutel is convinced her team has what it takes.
“It’s going to take everybody to play at their best and playing without excuses or slacking off,” the sophomore said. “This past week we have prepared for it. We have prepared not slacking and haven’t let off on the gas at all.”
The Lady Cavs have been driving full throttle for much of the past month.
They enter today’s tournament on a nine-game winning streak and have outscored opponents, 45-5, during that run.
Shenika Williams is leading the team with 15 goals, while Megan Thomas (13), Chihiro Kikita (10), Anes (8) and Treutel (8) have also been key scorers.
The Lady Cavs have lost to just four teams all season — South Georgia, Georgia Perimeter, Brevard and Polk State College — and were able to avenge the South Georgia and Georgia Perimeter losses in the Region XVII tournament.
Wednesday’s game gives Darton another chance at revenge.
“That’s what we hope, to get a chance to play that game for a trip to the semifinals,” Veilands said.
Anes believes her team never should have lost to Brevard in the first place.
“Our mindset wasn’t there. We just weren’t connecting as a team,” she said. “It was literally like a puzzle, and there were pieces missing. We just had to figure out where to put them and how to get them into place.”
Everything is falling perfectly into place now for the Lady Cavs.
They started the season with a 4-5 record but have bounced back with the best turnaround in the history of the program.
It’s a rags-to-riches story that still amazes Veilands, who had to piece together a team that had only five returners from last year’s roster.
“People have to realize what we lost and how many starters we lost from last year,” Veilands said. “We brought in a whole new group, and I don’t think kids realize until they get here what this is about.”
They understand now and are less than a week away from the school’s first national title.
“I wouldn’t have words for that,” said Treutel, who is one of the few returning starters from last season. “It would be indescribable, the best feeling in the world.”