Woman playing soccer

As she looked around the room at the gathering of collegiate women’s soccer players at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-American banquet last January in Baltimore, Capital University senior Mariah Richards couldn’t think of a better way for her athletic career to end.

Richards became the fifth Crusader to be recognized as an All-American in the program’s history and shared NSCAA Scholar All-American honors with teammate Maura Fortino.

“It took me a while to realize what it means to receive that honor,” said the Massillon Jackson graduate who helped guide Capital to a 15-5-1 record, its third consecutive Ohio Athletic Conference championship and the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament last fall. “It was a closure to one of the biggest parts of my life.”

The center back, who was recently accepted into the University of Louisville’s School of Dentistry, knew her soccer career would end eventually. However, the OAC Defensive Player of the Year never envisioned it’d take timing, teamwork and a trip in a four-passenger airplane to allow her to play in her final game.

“The only words I can use to describe what happened is ‘this is ridiculous,’” Richards said.

One of the best moments in Richards’s soccer career coincided with one of her lowest points. Richards helped set up a tying goal in Capital’s victory over Ohio Northern in the OAC championship game. Three minutes remaining and her team trailing 2-1, Richards rocketed a shot off the goalpost but the ricochet landed on the foot of teammate Monique Hanayik, who tapped it past ONU goalkeeper Emily Brodict to a forge a tie. The Crusaders won 4-3 in an ensuing shootout to clinch a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.

While her teammates celebrated, Richards worried she played her last game. In October, If the Crusaders made the NCAA tournament, the senior faced the possibility of having her interview for enrollment with Ohio State’s School of Dentistry and a first-round tournament game both scheduled on Nov. 14.

“After we beat Ohio Northern, I was mess. I kept thinking I’m not going to be able to play next weekend,” Richards said. “I knew (at some point) one door on my soccer career was going to close and another door on my career was going to open but I never thought it was going to happen on the same day.”

Richards’ chances of playing in the postseason yo-yo-ed between hope and despair when the tournament bids were announced on Nov. 9. First, there was the good news: the team would play in Danville, Ky., a mere four-hour drive from Bexley. That meant if Capital played its game in its opener on Nov. 13 or if Hanover College opted to play at night, Richards could make it.

Then came bad news – The two schools would play at 12 noon on Nov. 14.

“The week before the interview was probably the most stressful week of my life ,” Richards said. “Although my teammates never made me feel that way, I felt I was letting my team down.”

“We played games without Mariah during the season and we survived. However there was definitely some uncertainty in our defending without her,” Capital coach Matt Ogden added.  “I knew how torn she was and how much her teammates meant to her.”

After Ohio State moved her interview up to earlier in the morning, Richards had the lofty ambition of completing her interview, jumping into a car and driving to Kentucky to, at best, compete in the second half. However the stars aligned in a way even better Richards could have imagined.

Two days after the NCAA announcement, the defender received a call from goalkeeper coach Clara Kridler who had an intriguing proposal. She had been taking flying lessons and her instructor was willing to fly her to the Danville Airport, which was eight miles from the stadium.

“I was like ‘Are you kidding?’ I just starting laughing,” Richards said. “How does this happen?”

“The whole week before, I started to have all these doubts –  What if my interview goes poorly? What if there’s bad weather?

There’s no way all the stars are going to align just right. It’s not going to happen.”

Everything, however, worked out perfectly. Not only did the interview and the flight go smoothly, but Richards arrived at the stadium a half hour before her teammates. The Crusaders knocked off Hanover 1-0 to advance to the second round.

The next day, Capital’s season, and Richard’s career, came to an end with a 4-0 loss to Centre College. Two hours after the game, Richards was back in a car and heading to another interview with the University of Louisville.

Everything Richards went through gave her a sense of confidence.

“I couldn’t image not being at that game,” she said. “I would’ve been a wreck if I didn’t get to play.”

“How that day unfolded, and how we got it all to work out was amazing,” Ogden added. “Mariah proved if there’s a will there’s a way and now has a wonderful story to tell.”


Mariah Richards competes against Ohio Northern University in the OAC championship game. (Photos courtesy of Capital University)


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