COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Members of USC's women's soccer team didn't know what to expect when Ali Khosroshahin became their coach this season and made them train harder and smarter than they ever had before.
"I was excited, but at the same time a little bit nervous," forward Amy Rodriguez said. "There's always that issue that you want to bond with your coach and have that trust and have that relationship."
It took a while for the trust to form. Gradually, it became as solid as their defense and goalkeeping, and their skills became as strong as their confidence, an evolution capped Sunday with a 2-0 victory over Florida State and the program's first NCAA championship.
Sophomore Marihelen Tomer capitalized on confusion around the Seminoles' goal to head home an errant clearing pass in the 25th minute, and junior defender Janessa Currier used her left foot to slam home the ball in the 76th minute after a Florida State defender failed to clear it.
On defense, the Trojans (20-3-2) neutralized Seminoles forwards Mami Yamaguchi and Sanna Talonen most of the day, preventing them from finding the seams they had found when Florida State (18-6-3) defeated Notre Dame in the semifinals.
"The better team won today," Seminoles Coach Mark Krikorian said after his team's first appearance in the Women's College Cup final.
Khosroshahin, who previously coached at Cal State L.A. and Cal State Fullerton, became the first Division I coach to win a women's soccer title in his first season.
"When I arrived January 8th, I asked the ladies to give 100% belief and support of the plan we were going to put forth," he said.
"I said we'd reevaluate at the end of the year, and if the plan didn't work we'd change it.
"And thankfully, the plan worked."
The plan involved getting players into optimum shape. As they labored less, they could think more clearly, playing a heady and cohesive game that took them past the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time.
Backed by sophomore goalkeeper Kristin Olsen, the Trojans shut out Creighton, Missouri, Florida and West Virginia before rallying to escape UCLA's huge shadow and upset the Bruins in the semifinals, 2-1, Friday. With each step, they took to heart what Khosroshahin had said all season -- that nothing matters at USC besides national championships.
Their title was the school's 107th national team title and 21st by a women's team. Eighty-five of the national titles are NCAA championships.
"At first we always had hopes we'd make it to this point," said Rodriguez, who scored both goals against UCLA and was voted the tournament's most outstanding forward.
"I don't think it became a reality until into the playoffs and we started playing well. We kept going round for round, and every game we just took teams apart. And with every game we gained such confidence.
"What got us through this last game was heart and dedication."
It helped that Tomer remembered to use her head while at close range, as she'd been taught. "It wasn't very hard, but it went in," she said.
And that Currier jumped in for the second goal when, as Krikorian said, the Seminoles "made a mess of it" while trying to clear the ball.
Khosroshahin said he had talked to USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett and joked they would "talk some business this week." His team did its part by taking care of the business of winning.
"This group, it took them a while to start believing, but when they started to believe, it's been a spectacular run," Khosroshahin said. "It's been so much fun."
Tomer, Currier and Kasey Johnson were voted to the all-tournament team. Rodriguez was voted the most outstanding player on offense, and Olsen won the honor for defense.
UCLA forward Lauren Cheney and midfielder Christina DiMartino were also named to the team.