Looking Through Season, History - Falcons Among The Best Ever
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Grantham, PA – This past weekend, the Messiah women’s soccer team capped off another impressive season by earning the program’s fourth NCAA Division III National Championship. Their 3-1 victory over Wheaton College in the tournament final completed a 23-0-1 campaign, with the program’s fourth title moving them into second all-time in number of championship trophies earned (UC San Diego has five, having won championships in 1989, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1999 before moving to NCAA Division II).
The Falcons were the eighth team in the 26-year history of the championship to finish with an undefeated record, ties not considered. Messiah is the only program to have done this more than once, accomplishing the feat four times—2005, 2008, 2009, and now this year. Additionally, this season marked the 12th straight year the team participated in the NCAA Championships tournament—the third-longest active streak behind The College of New Jersey (20) and Wheaton College, IL. (15).
This year, the women’s team captured their fifth straight Commonwealth Conference Championship with a 5-1 victory over Lebanon Valley College. The conference title—the 11th in program history, followed another undefeated (7-0) season in the conference regular season. This season marked the program’s eighth straight flawless regular season (total 55-0-0). The program’s last loss to a conference opponent came in 2006, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Elizabethtown in the Commonwealth Championships final.
The 2011 season started with the Falcons scoring 11 goals across their first two wins, defeats of Wittenberg and Swarthmore in the season-opening Messiah Classic. A highly-anticipated matchup with Johns Hopkins University on September 7 was rained out, as the Falcons hit the road to face another rival: William Smith. The programs had met in the NCAA Final Four in both 2008 and 2010, with Messiah outscoring their rivals 7-0 across two wins. The Falcons and Herons played a 0-0 tie on September 10, with Messiah being outshot (12-11) for the first of only two times this season (Amherst, 14-13). For both teams, it would be the only blemish on their records until they met again in the 2011 Final Four on Friday, December 2.
After tying William Smith, the Falcons continued on the road moving through Muhlenberg (5-0) and then 2011 NCAA Quarterfinal-participant Williams College. In the win over Williams, freshman Mackenzie Clapper accounted for the game’s only goal.
The Falcons outscored their next four opponents—York, Misericordia, Dickinson, and Widener, by a total of 18-1, including a 9-0 win over York College. The win over York would be one of three times this season when the Falcons would score at least nine goals—the other two being a pair of 10-0 wins over Alvernia on October 22 and Elms College on November 12.
On October 5, the Falcons would face the first of only two deficits in 2011, as they fell behind Eastern University 0-1. Second half goals by junior Corinne Wulf and sophomore Alicia Frey would give the Falcons a come-from-behind victory as they moved to 9-0-1 through their first 10 games.
The next six games for Messiah would be against Commonwealth opponents, as they completed their perfect 7-0 record in the conference during the regular season. In all, the Falcons outscored their conference opponents 33-0 across their seven wins, launching an incredible 199 shots while requiring senior goalkeeper Autumn Reilly to make only eight saves against conference foes.
In the Commonwealth Championships Semifinal, the Falcons downed Albright College 3-0 before defeating Lebanon Valley College in the Finals by the score of 5-1. Senior defender Kelsey Gorman was named the Commonwealth Championship Most Valuable Player, further highlighting the gaudy defensive unit that would go on to allow only five goals in the entire 2011 season—including the NCAA postseason!
With such impressive play in the Commonwealth this season, the Falcons were honored with seven All-Commonwealth members, including the co-Player of the Year Gorman and Rookie of the Year Clapper.
The Falcons entered their 12th consecutive NCAA Championships tournament by hosting with Elms College, who was making their postseason debut. Senior forward Erin Hench and Wulf each scored three goals, as 10 others tallied either a score or an assist for the Falcons in a 10-0 win. The next day, Messiah defeated Skidmore College by the score of 3-0 to advance to the Third Round.
Messiah continued in their hosting of the NCAA tournament, as they welcomed SUNY New Paltz to Shoemaker Field on November 19. Playing the role of Cinderella to that point, SUNY New Paltz had upset #11 Lynchburg College in their First Round game (0-0, 3-2 PK) before moving past Rowan University in overtime by the score of 2-1. The Hawks gave the Falcons all they could muster, losing 1-0 to Messiah as the host awaited the winner of Johns Hopkins and Amherst.
Though many anticipated a rematch of the 2010 Quarterfinal, in which Messiah defeated Johns Hopkins 2-1, Amherst College shut out the high-powered Blue Jays’ offense by the score of 2-0 to face the Falcons.
With a trip to the Final Four on the line, Hench notched her second hat trick in 2011 NCAA postseason. The 2009 National Player of the Year scored all three goals for the Falcons in a thrilling, hard-fought 3-1 victory to send Messiah to their eighth straight Final Four.
Arriving in San Antonio, Texas—the site of the Final Four for the third straight year, the Falcons were met by a familiar foe. William Smith, aforementioned rivals in the NCAA postseason, entered the game with an almost identical 20-0-1 record to the Falcons' 21-0-1. In game featuring top-flight offenses and stingy defensive units, junior Alex Brandt provided the game’s only score with a stunning strike from 25 yards out in the midfield. The goal dove into the upper right corner of the goal, glancing off the cross bar after sailing over the outstretched arms of Herons keeper Amanda Davis. Messiah outshot the Herons 12-1 as they advanced to the fifth straight championship final, and seventh in program history.
Standing between them and a third national title in four years was another familiar foe—the Thunder of Wheaton College. Wheaton was playing in their 15th straight NCAA Championships tournament, advancing to their fourth national final. Owners of three National Championships, the Thunder defeated the Falcons 1-0 in the 2007 NCAA championship before losing the Falcons in the NCAA Championship the very next year by a 5-0 tally.
This year’s championship final saw the Thunder take a 1-0 lead just seven minutes into the game, as freshman Anna Seabolt redirected a ball in the box off her head to the upper right corner of the Falcons’ goal. The lead would be short lived when, just over seven minutes later, Hench tied the game with her own header off a beautiful cross from senior Lisa Wingard. Wingard, a substitute off the bench for much of the season, had been starting on defense for Messiah throughout the NCAA postseason. Now playing on the right wing, Wingard’s speedy play proved to be a main factor in the Falcons’ offensive pressure against the Thunder.
Coming out of the half tied at 1-1, Hench again rose to the occasion to give the Falcons the lead. Played a ball up the right sideline from sophomore Ali Rogers, Hench made a swift turn over her right should just outside the right corner of the 18 yard line to attack into the Thunder’s box. A quick strike from eight yards out would be blocked by Thunder keeper Hilary Barreto, with a rebound coming to Hench for another attempt. Her second shot on the play went into the back for the net for the score and a 2-1 Falcons’ lead.
Just seven minutes later, the Falcons would take a commanding 3-1 lead on a goal by freshman Hannah Weyalnd. Weyland, who had just entered the game as an injury replacement for junior Rachel Scheibeler, scored a header off a cross from the right side from Hench.
The 3-1 lead would stand for the Falcons, as a Messiah celebration took place on the field as the final horn sounded.
For Hench, the assist completed a 2011 NCAA postseason of eight goals and four assists, for a total of 20 points. Named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player, Hench finishes her collegiate career holding Division III records for most career NCAA postseason goals (19), assists (13), total points (51), and points in a single tournament (20, 2011). She is also tied for most goals (8) in a single NCAA postseason, accomplished this season.
With the 3-1 win over Wheaton, Messiah moved past both Wheaton and The College of New Jersey to stand alone in second place all-time for total number of NCAA Championships. Additionally, their 21 goals scored over their six NCAA Championships' games broke their own record for most goals in a single tournament; the record of 20 goals was set in 2008 by the Falcons.
Kelsey Gorman was named to the All-Tournament Team as the Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Joining Hench and Gorman on the All-Tournament team were Wingard and Brandt.
After finishing the season with a 23-0-1 record, Messiah head coach Scott Frey moved his all-time record at Messiah to an impressive 252-13-12. He is currently first all-time in NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer in career winning percentage (.931), which is also second all-time in any level of NCAA men’s or women’s soccer behind University of North Carolina’s Anson Dorrance (673-33-21, .940).
For the seniors, the National Championship is culmination of the most decorated senior class in Messiah women’s soccer history. Over the past four years, the program has collected an overall record of 96-1-4, earning three NCAA Division III National Championships over their careers. The lone loss on their watch came in the 2010 National Championship to Hardin-Simmons University, a 2-1 defeat. Outside of the famed Tar Heels’ program led by Coach Dorrance, no women’s soccer team in NCAA Championships history has graduated a senior class with as many wins to only a single a loss.
On Thursday, December 8, 2011, Messiah College will host a celebration reception in the Larsen Student Union from 8:00-9:00 p.m. to recognize the outstanding achievements of this year’s women’s soccer team.