A look back: Women's soccer national championship of 1987

A look back: Women's soccer national championship of 1987

By Matthew D. Stokes 13C for Berryvikings.com

With the start of the 29th season of intercollegiate women's soccer at Berry drawing closer, we look back at the program's three NAIA National Championship-winning teams.
Archived issues of The Campus Carrier, The Cabin Log and nine interviews with former student-athletes, coaches and administrators proved to be invaluable sources of information. A special thanks goes out to those who generously shared their experiences.

We begin with the first championship team: 1987. Photo gallery
Following an inaugural season in which the team, then known as the 'Lady Fury,' finished as the 1986 NAIA National Tournament runner-up, Berry set its sights on claiming the top spot.
"You go all the way to second so obviously the only thing left is you got to win it all," said Ray Leone, the program's first coach (1986-88).
The process of achieving that goal took time and started rather inauspiciously. In its season opener, Berry traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and dropped a 5-0 decision to the University of North Carolina.

"That was the powerhouse," said Julie Simons of the NCAA Division I Tar Heels. "We played these National Team-type players so it was a real eye-opener, but a great experience, which contributed to our success. Playing against those top-level teams really challenged us to step it up and improve our game."

From that point forward, the team lost only one more match during that fall. Yet again Berry fell against an NCAA Division I opponent: North Carolina State University. By the season's conclusion, UNC captured the National Championship while NCSU reached the national quarterfinals.

The Lady Fury finished the regular season with a 6-2-0 mark versus NCAA Division I competition. During one stretch, the team won six consecutive matches via shutout, including three contests by 1-0 margins.

Further down the line, Berry reached the NAIA National Championship finale for the second straight fall. The team matched up against host Erskine College on Saturday, Nov. 21, 1987, in Due West, South Carolina. The Lady Fury won by a 1-0 score as Nicki Courtney tallied a first-half goal to seal the victory--putting the final touches on an 18-match unbeaten streak (16-0-2) to wrap up the season with an 18-2-2 record. The team's ties occurred in back-to-back road contests at Erskine and Huntingdon.

Even though it has been over 25 years since that weekend, Leone and others still remember the championship match.

"Thank goodness our men's soccer team and half of the school came to see us play," said Leone, who now is the head coach at Harvard University. "Otherwise the home-field advantage was monumentally against us. It was awesome and it helped us."

"I'll check out the video every ten years or so," Leone said. "I'll watch the game and see how close it was, and also how great that goal was."

Leone described in detail the sequence that led to Nicki Courtney's goal in the 32nd minute. Following Kelley Broen's corner kick Berry capitalized for the tally.

"It was a free kick, banged around and bounced to the right side and a player served the ball all the way to the left side," Leone said. "Our right back served the ball to the left back, and our left back (Courtney) scored in the upper 90."

Leone said Erskine goalkeeper Kathryn Whitmire was outstanding in that match.

"This goalkeeper for Erskine was unbelievable," said Leone of Whitmire, who earned Most Valuable Defensive Player honors. "She was an incredible goalkeeper so we had to totally just catch her off-guard and put it in the upper 90 over her head. Otherwise she was just saving everything."

Leone noted that Erskine threatened late in the second and final half, forcing Lady Fury goalkeeper Laura Hamilton to punch away a shot over the cross bar.

"I do remember one of their best players hitting the ball just over the goal--and it was a heart-stopping moment," Leone said. "But after that, we kind of knew we had it."

Leone stayed at Berry for one more season. The 1988 team finished 14-8-1 and lost to Siena Heights in the national semifinials. Since 1989, Coach Leone has been an NCAA Division I head coach at Creighton, Clemson and Arizona State before landing at Harvard in 2007.

Carol Gornowicz, the tournament's MVP and Most Valuable Offensive Player, said the subsequent hours after the final whistle sounded still come to mind.

"I just remember everybody running out onto the field and afterwards going onto the bus," Gornowicz said. "We had 'We Are the Champions' playing, and everybody was singing. It was an exciting time for everybody."

1990 Women's Soccer Championship Team Story ~ 1993 Women's Soccer Championship Team Story