Messiah National Champions For Fourth Time In Program History!
Senior Erin Hench (above) scored the game-winning goal and earned the Tournament's Best Offensive Player award.
San Antonio, TX – With just over an hour remaining before Saturday’s NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer National Championship, Messiah head coach Scott Frey was asked how he thought senior Erin Hench would perform on the game’s greatest stage.
“She’ll be ready to go,” said Frey. “Her demeanor and character is perfect for games like this—she lives for this.”
Needless to say, Frey couldn’t be more right.
Hench scored two goals and assisted on another in Saturday’s soccer national championship, leading the Falcons to a 3-1 victory over rival Wheaton College. The national title is the fourth in program history, following championships in 2005, 2008, and 2009.
Hench is part of a senior class that graduates with an accumulated record of 96-1-4, with their lone defeat coming in the 2010 national championship game to Hardin-Simmons University.
“What can you say about this senior class?” reflected Frey. “They’ve lost one game in their careers and have been to four national title games. And this one today—it was one of the most memorable.”
Saturday’s victory over Wheaton College certainly was memorable, as the Falcons found themselves down 0-1 after just seven minutes of play.
The Thunder’s early goal came off the head of freshman Anna Seabolt, who placed a high-arching shot over the reach of Messiah keeper Autumn Reilly to the upper right corner of the goal. Seabolt’s shot came off a header from teammate Katelyn Kishkunas after Vale Lelle crossed the Thunder possession into the box from the right wing.
“It felt great to get an early lead,” said Seabolt, who landed awkwardly after the play and received a bloody nose. “I was able to redirect the ball to the post, but I wasn’t sure the shot would get in.”
Trailing in a game for the first time since October 5 (2-1 win over Eastern University), and for only the second time in 2011, the Falcons did not take long to respond.
In the 15th minute, junior Alex Brandt played a through ball from the midfield to senior Lisa Wingard down the right sideline. Wingard chased the ball down and drove it towards the end line, firing a cross from 20 yards out. The ball traveled right to the front of the net where Hench was on a run towards the goal. At the six yard line, Hench directed the ball off her head and past Thunder goalkeeper Kesley Graham. Graham, who stayed on her line in the goal, was unable to react to the sharp direction from Hench as Messiah knotted the game at 1-1.
“Lisa played a great ball,” said Hench of the game-tying goal. “As I was running towards (the pass), I was thinking ‘head or foot,’ but the pass was so perfect and I was able to use my head.”
“When they scored (first), we still had confidence that we would get going,” said Wingard of the momentum-swinging goal for the Falcons. “Alex played me a great ball to the wing, and Erin made a great play off the pass.”
The goal seemed to deflate the Thunder for a long stretch, an observation echoed by coach Pete Felske.
“There (first) goal was a blow to us,” said Felske. “When you get a lead against Messiah, you hope you can carry it to the end. You can’t give them an upswing for momentum, because they’ll take advantage of it.”
Though the Falcons did seem to start controlling the play on the field, the Thunder almost regained a lead in the 32nd minute of play. Off a set piece from a corner kick, a cross from the left side went to the far post of the Messiah goal. Junior Liz Phillips cleared the wind-turned shot from the box before Reilly made a save near the right post on a shot by Seabolt.
With the half slowly coming to a close, the Falcons would also almost take the lead, but not in traditional fashion. In the 40th minute, a cross from Wingard on the right wing sailed across the box in front of the Thunder’s goal where it was deflected by Lelle. The deflection was fired back across the open net and just wide of the right post, leaving the Wheaton faithful holding their breath in the stands.
The teams entered the half tied at 1-1, with both sides taking three shots. Reilly made two saves in the first half for the Falcons.
“We had a great start to the game, even though they tied it up,” said Wheaton senior Jamie Oriwiler. “We felt like we were in the game, and at halftime we felt good about where we were.”
In the second half, those good feelings from the Thunder almost resulted in a quick goal. A free kick from 35 yards out on the right side was controlled by junior Laura Karsten at the six yard line near the left post of the Messiah goal. Karsten’s touch off her chest went to the goal line where it would be bobbled and secured by Reilly.
From that point on, the Falcons began to assert themselves.
In the 51st and 53rd minutes, respectively, Messiah juniors Rachel Scheibeler and Corinne Wulf were able to drive the ball into the left side of the box for the Falcons before getting clear shots on Wheaton keeper Hilary Barreto, who began the second half in the net for the Thunder.
In the 56th minute, freshman Mackenzie Clapper launched a shot from the left corner of the 18 yard line to the far right post of the Wheaton goal. Barreto, who would make six saves in the second half, grabbed Clapper’s shot from in front of the crossbar.
The Falcons’ offensive assault would break through just a few minutes later. Hench would be played a ball up the right sideline from sophomore Ali Rogers, posting up on the corner of the 18 yard line. A swift turn over her right shoulder led her into the box and past her defender as she attacked one-on-one with Barreto. Hench’s quick strike from 8 yards out would be blocked by Barreto, with the rebound coming back to Hench for another shot—this time, a score to center of the goal.
Hench’s second goal of the game, and eighth in the 2011 NCAA tournament, would give Messiah a 2-1 lead.
“We saw that our advantage was in the midfield,” said Frey, reflecting on the Wheaton defense that positioned a deep sweeper in favor of a guarded midfield presence. “We were able to slip our passes through the midfield and set up our attack.”
“After we got comfortable, we started playing with ‘controlled urgency,’” said Hench, the 2009 National Player of the Year that missed the 2010 season with a knee injury. “This was a total team effort today, and that’s what makes this such a great team and special program.”
Now facing a 1-2 deficit with less than thirty minutes remaining, the Thunder were thwarted on their best chance for a game-tying goal just moments later. A Wheaton attack across the Falcons’ 18 yard line on the left side of the box was stopped, with the ball finding it’s way to Seabolt—alone—on the right side. Her shot from 15 yards went on a line to the top center of the goal where it was punched over the crossbar by Reilly at the last possible moment. The save, one of four on the day for Reilly, guarded the 2-1 Messiah lead.
“Autumn made the one brilliant save you need,” said Frey. “Our defense was strong again today (after the early Wheaton score).”
With Reilly’s exciting save protecting their lead, Messiah continued pressing into their attacking third of the field. In the 68th minute, Brandt again played a ball out of the midfield to the right wing. This time, Hench would receive the pass and drive the ball to the edge of the box on the right side, lofting a low cross into the middle of the box where it was met by freshman Hannah Weyland. Weyland, who just moments before had entered the game as an injury replacement for Scheibeler, directed the cross with her head into the back of the net to give Messiah a commanding 3-1 lead.
The goal was the second of Weyland’s young career.
Wheaton’s final chance at a score came in the 83rd minute, as Seabolt flicked a cross from the edge of the right end line across the Messiah goal. The ball rolled along the goal line, settling untouched on the left side of the box before being grabbed by Reilly.
The Falcons, too, came close to extending their lead in the final minutes, nevertheless finishing with a 3-1 win and another NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer National Championship.
“We’ve had teams in the past that have seemed to have everything go their way,” said Frey, whose program won national titles in 2005, 2008, and 2009, and finished national runner-up in 2007 and 2010. “This year, this team has faced a lot of adversity and has earned everything they’ve accomplished. I’ve been saying it for a while now, they’re a special group.”
Part of the adversity Frey is referring to includes season-ending injuries to sophomore Aly Platek and junior Tannia Nieto. Junior defender Annie Trapp and sophomore defender Ali Rogers also missed extensive time this season due to illness and injury—Rogers returned from her absence just this past week, playing in the weekend’s Final Four games after sitting out the entire month of November.
In the end, however, the Falcons rose beyond their circumstances to earn the highest honor possible—national champions.
Individual honors went to Hench, Wingard, Brandt, and senior defender Kelsey Gorman as they were named to the All-Tournament team. Gorman, the 2011 Commonwealth Championships Most Valuable Player, was named the NCAA Championships Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Hench was named the Championships Most Outstanding Offensive Player, finishing with eight goals and four assists across the team's six games.
With the loss, Wheaton completes another impressive season under the instruction of head coach Pete Felske. In his 24th season leading Wheaton, the Thunder finish 23-2-2, advancing to their sixth Final Four in the past 11 years. They earned National Championships in 2004, 2006, and 2007—combining with Messiah to hold seven of the previous eight national titles in NCAA Division III women’s soccer.
“Credit to Messiah for the win today,” said Felske. “They’re the better team and we made mistakes today that cost us. I’m proud of our girls for working hard and for the season we had.”
Meanwhile, the Falcons complete the 2011 season undefeated with a record of 23-0-1. In completing his 12th season with the Falcons, head coach Scott Frey holds a career record at Messiah of 252-13-12.
“This is a memorable championship,” said Frey, who couldn’t say enough about his team—especially his seniors. “I’m as proud of these girls as I’ve ever been of any team.”