Liz McGrail is used to winning, but she's never been this far before.
Likewise, the Oneonta State women's soccer program has had its share of success with 12 consecutive NCAA Division III Tournament appearances. But the Red Dragons have never been this far under fourth-year coach McGrail.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, McGrail and her Red Dragons will attempt to take the next step toward winning a national championship when they visit Geneva to meet host William Smith in a Round of 16 game.
In a way, O-State can thank William Smith for fueling its eight-game unbeaten run, which includes seven straight victories.
"I think the William Smith game was the turning point in the season for us," McGrail said of Oneonta's 2-0 loss at William Smith on Oct. 16. "It showed us what level we need to play at. And I think ever since that game, we've played much better and are a lot more confident."
Confidence has never been a problem for McGrail. The former three-sport standout led the Stamford girls soccer team to the Class D state title in 1995 en route to Daily Star Player of the Year honors and starred for the Indians in basketball and softball.
She went on to become a key member of the soccer, basketball and softball teams at Oneonta State, where she graduated in 2001 as the soccer program's all-time leading scorer with 137 points. That record was later topped by another Stamford graduate, Mary Velan.
The Red Dragons' NCAA soccer-tournament streak started in McGrail's junior season in 1999. That season ended with a 1-0 first-round NCAA loss to Nazareth at William Smith. The following year, Oneonta returned to William Smith and won a first-round game, 1-0, against Western Connecticut State. In the second round, though, the host school beat O-State, 2-1, in overtime.
McGrail, who scored in each of her last two college games, took over for former coach Tracey Ranieri in 2007.
McGrail's Red Dragons lost in the first round of the NCAAs in 2007 and 2008, then bowed out of the 2009 tournament with a 2-1 second-round loss to Williams College.
This year, O-State hosted first- and second-round NCAA games at Red Dragon Field on Nov. 12 and 13, advancing to the Round of 16 with a 3-0 rout of Roger Williams and a 2-0 victory over Rochester, respectively.
McGrail said Ranieri, who won the national title in 2003, has been instrumental in keeping O-State's winning tradition alive.
"She's been a wonderful resource for me," McGrail said. "She let me develop my own program and be my own person, but we talk often and her door's always open for me."
Ranieri, now O-State's athletic director, said she is impressed with McGrail's growth as a coach over the past four years.
"We're very different, but that just goes to show there's more than one way to get it done," Ranieri said. "Liz is a very technical coach and she pays attention to the small details of the game. She's also very open to ideas and is very creative in practice, which helps keep the players' attention."
Right now, O-State (17-4-2) seems to be focused on getting past William Smith (16-2-3). The winner of Saturday's game will play a national quarterfinal at 1 p.m. Sunday at William Smith against Williams or Eastern Connecticut. Quarterfinal winners advance to the national semifinals Dec. 3 in San Antonio, Texas, where the NCAA D-III championship match will take place Dec. 4.
"They know what to expect from William Smith and if they face Williams College in the next round, they're familiar with them, too," Ranieri said. "When you put the best teams on your schedule during the regular season, it could be a huge advantage at this time of year. It's strange to think we're two games away from the final four, but they are two very winnable games."
Herkimer High graduate Brelyn Nasypany scored both goals against the Red Dragons on Oct. 16. A senior, Nasypany leads the Herons with 17 goals and 12 assists for 46 points. The second-highest scorer on William Smith is Whitney Fray, who has eight goals and four assists for 20 points.
McGrail said O-State's goals Saturday are to shut down Nasypany and score first.
William Smith is likely aware of Oneonta's top scoring threats as well.
Junior midfielder Dana DeSimone, who scored once in each NCAA game this year, has team-bests of 13 goals and 27 points. She's followed by senior midfielder Nha Wright (23 points) and sophomore forward Kayla Brantmeyer (16).
Wright contributed a goal and an assist last weekend, when Brantmeyer scored twice.
"If we win the national championship, it would definitely be like mind-blowing, but I wouldn't be completely shocked," Brantmeyer said. "I feel like we're capable. We're more than capable of taking out any team. We're not big, but we're fast and we're technical. If we play the patterns we know how to play, we play with speed and the aggressive, hard-working style that we know how to play, there's no team that can really stop us."