Virginia Wesleyan is gearing up for her first Final Four appearance since 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (WTKR) – Virginia Wesleyan will enter the Final Four stage for the first time in 16 years. This time, the Marlins hope to get the job done.

VWU took the field for its final Monday practice of the season, just two days before leaving for Salem where the Marlins will fight for a national championship this weekend. They got to that point by defeating defending champion and previously undefeated Christopher Newport in the Elite Eight. Outdoing a rival and dethroning the CNU was quite the stepping stone into the Final Four.

“Playing against them and having the opportunity to keep winning [penalty kicks] is unbelievable,” said Virginia Wesleyan head coach Jeff Bowers. “This celebration between our players and the student body also brought our campus community together, which was great.

“CNU has always been a rival for us,” added junior full-back Victoria Gonzalez. “It was always our goal to beat them. We haven’t beat them for a long time.”

The victory over the Captains propelled VWU into its first Final Four since 2006, where Case Western Reserve awaits in the national semifinals on Friday. After a five-day hiatus, the Marlins returned to campus and focused on the Spartans, but Bowers wants to make sure his players appreciate what they’ve accomplished.

“Even if you have the best teams, sometimes anything can happen in football,” said the head coach. “Sometimes it’s not the prettiest game, so I think our players obviously see the magnitude of that.”

“It wasn’t until the Thanksgiving break when I retired from football that I realized we were in the Final Four,” smiles Gonzalez. “A lot of teams can’t say that and a lot of people who play college football dream of it. So if I can say I made it and look back on my college years, I’ll never forget it.”

The Marlins are 18-2-4 on the season and will have a tough test at Case Western Reserve next Friday. The Spartans compete Friday, 01/19 of the year and finish fourth among NCAA Division III teams. While Virginia Wesleyan is focused on the game immediately beforehand, the Marlins also recognize how big it would be for the program and school to add two more wins and pick up a national title.

“Just thinking about it makes me smile,” Gonzalez said. “I think there is no better feeling in the world to be able to call yourself a national champion.”

“That’s amazing, isn’t it?” Bowers laughed. “I think anyone would be thrilled to do that and that’s the goal.”

Virginia Wesleyan and Case Western Reserve meet Friday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at Roanoke College in Salem. Messiah and Johns Hopkins meet at 13:00 in the first semi-final. The winners of each game meet on Sunday for the national title.