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Falcons Head To Final Four Following Instant Classic Against Rowan
Posted: 11/16/2008
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Junior Liz Ziegler came up with one of the biggest goals in Messiah field hockey history Sunday afternoon.

Grantham, PA — Following an informal poll, the results are in:

Sunday’s 2-1 double-overtime win against Rowan University — for the right to advance to the 2008 NCAA Division III Final Four — was the best field hockey game ever played at Anderson Field.

Those were at least the thoughts of 36-year head coach Jan Trapp, who watched junior Liz Ziegler end the game with 31.1 seconds remaining in the second overtime period, scoring a goal from the top of the circle to set off a wild celebration — complete with a team pile-on. Messiah (17-1) now moves on to participate in its 12th Final Four in program history, though it will take a lot to outdo the performance put forth in Sunday’s Third Round classic.

“This was probably one of the best games, if not the best, to ever be played on this field,” Trapp said following her 680th game as the program’s leader. “It was an all-out war between us and Rowan, but it was a cleanly-played game. There wasn’t a hint of antagonistic nature out there. Both teams respect each other immensely, and I think that made it even more pure. Both teams gave it absolutely everything they had. It was simply awesome.”

The only team to hand Messiah a loss during the regular-season, 11th-ranked Rowan (15-5) did everything it could to offer a repeat performance Sunday, only to be denied by a resilient Falcons’ bunch. After playing 29.9 seconds short of a full 100 minutes of field hockey, the 2008 Final Four field was completed: Messiah — ranked number one in the final STX/NFHCA Top 20 Poll — will face Tufts University in the first game of next weekend’s national semi-finals, while host Ursinus College will take on Bowdoin College in the second contest.

Playing a Sunday game for the first time in the program’s 46-year history, things started off relatively typical between the Falcons and Profs. Both teams worked for possession throughout the opening moments, while Messiah secured its first penalty corner just 37 seconds into play.

It appeared that the Falcons would strike first just six minutes in, as junior Katie Love ripped a shot into the back of the cage. That goal was waived off due to an obstruction call, and the scoreless tie was preserved.

Things remained that way through halftime and beyond, as Messiah took a slight 5-4 lead in shots to the intermission, though the Falcons ripped off nine corner’s to Rowan’s two during the first 35 minutes of play.

That statistic changed dramatically at the start of the second period, however, as Rowan recorded six corners from the 41:56 mark to the 44:50 moment — eventually changing the game with its final effort. The Profs’ Lauren Ross snuck a shot past Messiah junior goalkeeper Ashley Mowery from the left wing, taking a serve from Jen Lipnickey and putting some serious doubt in the over 500 Messiah fans in attendance.

“I thought we controlled play for the majority of the first half, and I thought we did so in the second half except for that stretch of corners where we couldn’t get the doggone ball out,” Trapp said. “We’re so good at pressuring every ball, but we eased off a bit during that stretch. I thought it would be only a matter of time before they scored, and they did. It was a letdown for us, no question. To give a team like Rowan that many chances in the striking circle will always lead to a goal.”

Now faced with the urgency of needing a goal to keep its season alive, Messiah responded. The Falcons recorded four penalty corners of their own from the 47:50 mark to the 59:02 clip, maintaining pressure on the Profs’ cage throughout. Those efforts were rewarded at the 60-minute mark, as senior Nikki Bailey got in and flipped a ball to junior Jenna Max. Diving toward the cage and fully outstretched, Max got just enough of the ball to redirect it past Rowan keeper Lisa Apt, tying the game 1-1 and giving Trapp’s club a seismic sense of relief.

“Obviously, that was huge for us,” she said. “It was a soft pass from Nikki. It couldn’t have been any harder, or Jenna wouldn’t have gotten her stick on it.”

Messiah kept the pressure on throughout the final 10 minutes of regulation — the Falcons attempted two more corners and had a shot from Bailey saved and another from Ziegler fly wide — but were unable to connect before the final whistle blew.

As both teams prepared for field hockey’s patented seven-versus-seven, 15-minute overtime periods, the intensity seemed to grow. The Profs and Falcons traded fastbreak opportunities. Ziegler pushed wide a reasonable look from just inside the circle at the 72:41 mark, while Rowan’s Amanda Greene did the same on a point-blank, empty cage with 75:30 elapsed.

Things got even more intense in the second overtime stanza, as a pair of penalty corners from the visitors were ditched by two saves from Mowery. Perhaps Rowan’s best chance at securing the game winner came with just under three minutes to play, as the Profs were awarded a penalty stroke following a Messiah foul in the circle. Mowery was able to dive and deflect the stroke from Rowan’s Kelly Angstadt, setting off another audible sigh from the increasing Falcons’ crowd.

The defensive star of the game, Mowery would finish with a total 15 saves, her season high. Angstadt’s stroke was the fourth penalty shot that Mowery had faced this season, keeping her a perfect four-for-four in denials.

“Ashley is just an awesome goalie,” Trapp said. “She is just marvelous on stroke cover, and has such good instincts.”

With a renewed opportunity thanks to Mowery’s heroics, Ziegler and the offense delivered just moments later. As the clock continued to tick and a penalty stroke finish imminent, Ziegler scored the most important shot of her life. Taking a feed from sophomore Julie Barton near midfield, Ziegler raced down the left flank. With a defender giving chase, she cut the ball back to her right, stopped, and fired a shot from the top of the circle that beat Apt to the far post.

What happened next was pure pandemonium.

Overcome with emotion, Ziegler fell to the turf. The remainder of her teammates piled on top of her.

Only 31.1 seconds remained on the scoreboard.

“All I could do was just stand there,” a stunned Trapp said. “I just kept muttering, ‘Wow.’”

Messiah finished with a 20-18 lead in total shots while firing 19 corners to Rowan’s 12, though both teams recorded 10 in the second half and overtime periods.

By virtue of the win, Messiah will participate in its 12th Final Four in program history, returning to the event for the fourth time in the last five years.

“It was a total team effort today,” Trapp said. “It’s never just one kid for us. No one person does our heavy lifting. It’s always the team. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Messiah will face Tufts Saturday at 11 a.m. Saturday on the campus of Ursinus College. Bowdoin and Ursinus will then meet at 2 p.m. The winners of those games will then face off in the 2008 NCAA Division III Field Hockey National Championship, set for a 1 p.m. start Sunday. Additional details regarding the 2008 NCAA Division III Field Hockey Championships will be made available on GoMessiah.com as they become available. Fans can also receive information by visiting the official championships website.