NEWPORT NEWS — The 2003 season still haunts Carrie Moura.
Hired as Christopher Newport University's field hockey coach two weeks before the season started, Moura led the Captains to a 6-8 record.
"I still hate that," Moura groused. "I wasn't even .500. That really made me annoyed."
That annoyance was an aberration. Moura's teams haven't had a losing record since and have made five straight trips to the NCAA tournament, beginning in 2006. That's an even more impressive feat considering that CNU's field hockey team plays as an independent, meaning there's no conference title and automatic postseason bid to reward a good year.
"You can't lose," said Moura, whose teams have lost no more than six games since that dastardly 2003 season and have posted back-to-back 15-win seasons. "There's no room for error in the regular season. … There's two (at-large playoff) bids. The kids have to perform every time they step on the field."
Given their coach, the 17th-ranked Captains – off to a 5-2 start that includes Sunday's 6-0 hammering of Johns Hopkins, ranked No. 20 – would hardly do otherwise.
"Practices are definitely intense, but it's the good kind of intense," said senior Lauren Cherry, who was offensive MVP as a senior at state Group AA/A power Tabb High. "It keeps you on your toes. (Moura) definitely instills that in us, too, so we're of the same mindset."
"That's just her demeanor. It's good for us," said senior Paige Childers, out of First Colonial High in Virginia Beach. "It makes us a hard-working team and just motivates us to give our all at any point, whether it's in practice or a game."
Both Cherry, who grew up playing in Moura's area field hockey camps, and Childers said their coach was a deciding factor in choosing CNU. For her part, Moura needed just one look at the school — which came while she was an assistant at Lynchburg College — to know it was where she wanted to be.
"We played CNU here, and when I walked on campus, I was just blown away," Moura said. "I really thought this could be a place that should have a winning program. It was in a great geographical location with an aesthetically pleasing campus. I thought for sure that this would be an easy place to recruit at."
However, "I thought it was pretty hopeless because the woman who was here before me had just gotten the job the year before, so I was like, 'Who would ever leave this job?' " Moura said. "After I finished my master's, I applied to a bunch of jobs, and nothing really felt right. Then in August, this position opened up, and I was all over it."
Moura focused first on bringing in the right players for CNU's program and academic standards — a focus she's never lost.
"I was relentless," she said. "I still am a database of every good field hockey player in the state of Virginia. I never stop when it comes to recruiting and finding the right kids."
After her first CNU season, Moura recruited a class that went 12-3 in 2004 and ending up producing three all-Americans and five all-region players.
"They really set the tone for the culture of the team and the tradition of success," said Moura, whose winning percentage in eight CNU seasons is .745 (105-36).
Now, players such as Cherry and Childers are charged with upholding that tradition.
"I try to help set the standard for what is to come, when not just me but my class leaves," Childers said. "If we set those examples now and lay down the rules as to what's expected and what we want CNU field hockey to be, they can carry that legacy and tradition on the rest of the years that they're here."
The Captains are young this year, but their goal remains unchanged. CNU made it to the NCAA Division III Elite 8 in 2006 and the Sweet 16 in 2008 and 2009, and postseason pushes are what the players — and their coach — have come to expect.
"I want to be No. 1," Moura said. "I want to be better than everyone else all the time. I want to do better than everyone else. And I want it for the players. I want them to experience what it's like to be better than everyone else, to work that much harder than everyone else."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun