Messiah Scores Five, Takes 5th Straight Commonwealth Title
Grantham, PA – For the fifth time in five years, the Messiah women's soccer team earned the distinction of Commonwealth Conference Champions. On Saturday, the team achieved the status in their 5-1 victory over Lebanon Valley College in the conference title game.
The Falcons (17-0-1) took a 1-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game on a goal by junior Corinne Wulf.
Messiah junior Alex Brandt controlled the ball in the midfield, just outside the 18 yard line, delivering across the right side to senior Erin Hench. Hench's quick turn to the right led to a through-ball to senior Leah Sipe on the edge of the box, with the senior dribbling through three LVC defenders on her attack before crossing the ball to Wulf on the left side. Wulf, too, had to fight past a defender or two to seemingly force the ball past the goal line.
The play, which started quick and seemed to only get awkwardly slower as it took place, would be the only score for either team in the first half.
"LVC, congrats to them, first of all," said Messiah head coach Scott Frey. "They came in and took us out of (our game) with their defensive pressure. We couldn't get in a rhythm during the first half, and struggled to get through their pressure."
Though Messiah did seem unsettled for the majority of their possessions, they still found a few tremendous opportunities to extend the lead.
In the 21st minute, senior Leah Sipe crossed a ball from the right side to the left side runner, senior Jess Shirk. Shirk's fumbled touch led to a quick deflection by LVC keeper Sami Young, with the ball winding up at the feet of senior Olivia Scott in the middle of the box. Scott's uncontested shot went just to the right of the goal.
Just three minutes later, Sipe put a through-ball from right side of the midfield into the right corner for Wulf. As the ball looked like it would cross out of bounds, Wulf put a touch on the ball back to senior Erin Hench. Hench would strike a shot from the right edge of the 18 yard box. The shot would glance off the crossbar before being cleared on the left side by the Dutchment defense.
As close as those oppportunities were, Messiah's best chance for adding a goal in the first half may have come with just under 5:00 remaining. Freshman Mackenzie Clapper went one-on-one with her defender on the left side of the 18 yard line, cutting left to strike an off-balance shot on Young. Although putting a save on the shot, Young was unable to control the ball as it bounced into the middle of the box. Crashing into the play was senior Lisa Wingard, who ran through the ball for a shot off the crossbar. The ball bounced straight down before being safely cleard by the defense.
The spoiled opportunities remaind somewhat harmless as the Falcons held onto their 1-0 lead. They may have loomed larger if Lebanon Valley (13-5-3) had managed to take advantage of either of junior Nicole Snyder's looks at Messiah's goal.
Both looks came midway through the half, in a span of about a minute. A fumbled pass from the Messiah defense led to Snyder going one-on-one with Messiah senior Kelsey Gorman on the right side. Snyder's shot from 25 yards out deflected off Gorman before landing in the hands of keeper Autumn Reilly.
Just a moment later, Snyder again found herself with the ball at her feet in the open field, this time off a forward pass from midfielder Jess Kleeschutle. Snyder advanced one-on-one with a closing Reilly, with Gorman covering from the left side. Snyder's final touch as Gorman arrived went too far forward, with Reilly securing the ball towards the top of the 18 yard line.
Regardless of the opportunities for both teams, the score remained 1-0 heading into the half. Messiah took 17 shots in the first frame to the Dutchmen's two. In the second half, the shot totals would repeat themselves. The difference would be the number of goals scored by the Falcons.
Messiah would score three goals in a six minute span starting in the 61st minute. All three goals would be un assisted, with Scott making up for her open-goal miss in the first half. Her shot from the top of the 18 yard line would be bobbled by Young before crossing the goal line.
Two minutees later, Gorman would punch a score through off a corner kick, volleying in the shot from the goal line after it was thought to be cleared out by an LVC defender.
Again two minutes later, Wulf would score her second goal of the game after securing possession from a defender's header out of the box. Her strike would be finished into the low, right side of the goal for a 4-0 Falcon lead.
"We played much better in the second half, much more comfortable," said Frey, whose team will advance to the NCAA Division III Tournament to begin next weekend. "We were fortunate to break through and take advantage of the opportunities."
The Dutchmen's Sara Drabenstadt would score an unassisted goal after a bobbled save by Reilly in the 80th minute of play. The score would be momentarily cut to 4-1, with Messiah's Shirk scoring a goal off an assist from freshman Lauren Federline in the 87th minute of play.
After the 5-1 final, Gorman was named Most Valuable Player for the 2011 Commonwealth Championships tournament.
"On this balanced team, (Kelsey) has been a solid rock for us," said Frey of the defender from Manheim, PA. "She has been steady all year, and has allowed us to do so much up front on offense (with her play from the backfield)."
"I'm happy (for the award)," said Gorman. "The win is definitely better, though. This year has been a journey for our team, and we're excited to win today. We love playing together."
Messiah will now advance to the Division III tournament, with brackets to be announced at the beginning of the upcoming week.
"Our goal is always to win the next game," added Gorman. "Now, that becomes a reality for us, as this no guarantee of two games anymore."