Nov. 21, 2009

By Bob Birge
Special to NCAA.com
    
SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. –
The Messiah field hockey team appeared headed for more postseason heartbreak, but then the Falcons showed the heart of a champion.

Midfielder Elizabeth Ziegler converted a penalty stroke with just under 10 minutes remaining Saturday as top-ranked Messiah rallied for a 4-3 victory over Ursinus in the semifinals of the Division III tournament at Mount Holyoke College.

Forward Kourtney Ehly erupted for three goals – all in the second half – to equal a Division III championship round record and spark Messiah’s comeback.  Messiah’s leading scorer, Ehly increased her season total to 29.

The Falcons (22-0) erased a 2-0 halftime deficit to advance to their seventh national championship game. They will face either Salisbury or Tufts here in Sunday’s final (1 p.m.).

Making their 13th appearance in the final four, Messiah (Grantham, Penn.) never has won a field hockey title under veteran coach Jan Trapp, who is in her 37th season and has coached more games (702) than any field hockey mentor in NCAA history.

“It’s just wonderful,” Trapp said of being back in the final. “It’s a great number, seven. We like the No. 7.”

The penalty stroke that resulted in the winning goal was awarded after the ball hit the foot of Ursinus’ Katie Hunt, who had made a defensive save in front of the net.

Ziegler drilled the ball into the upper left corner of the net for her first penalty kick conversion of the season after missing her only previous attempt. It was her ninth goal of the season.

“I’ve practiced them all season and it was time to make it count,” she said.

Trapp said the Falcons’ postseason struggles did not weigh on the team at halftime.
Messiah also surrendered the first goal in a 4-3 regular-season win over Ursinus before exploding for three goals in a span of less than two minutes late in the first half.

“The one thing we said (is) when we played them (earlier in the season), we scored three quick goals,” Trapp added. “I said, ‘Is there anybody here who doesn’t think we can score three quick goals again?’”

Ursinus (Collegeville, Penn.) finished the year 20-3. Its other loss in the regular season was a 2-0 defeat to Salisbury.

“I think it’s been a terrific year,” Bears coach Laura Moliken said. “They have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about.”

Messiah dominated early, but Ursinus goalie Erica Scott kept the contest scoreless with seven saves in the first half.  Jen Hooven and Alyssa Thren then scored in the final 19 minutes to give the Bears their 2-0 lead.

“I was pretty mad, just being a perfectionist,” said Messiah goaltender Ashley Mowery, who finished with six saves. “The team was definitely refocusing its game.”

Messiah erupted for three goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Ehly scored her first two less than four minutes apart to get the Falcons even at the 49-minute mark.

“This team tends to bunch their goals at times,” Trapp said. “I call it a cluster bomb.”

Ehly’s second goal at 49:05 began a span in which the teams combined for three goals in a span of 71 seconds.

“Once we got the first one, we knew we would have a head of steam,” Ehly said.

Thren registered her 34th the season 37 seconds later to put the Bears back ahead. The lead didn’t last long, however, as Ehly tied it again a 34 seconds later.

“They were able to utilize the mistakes we made to take advantage, and that’s why they won,” Hooven said. “It’s a tough loss, but we came so far as a team.”

Now Messiah’s eight seniors return to the finals, looking to finish a job they couldn’t complete three years ago.

“It feels awesome, a sense of familiarity that calms everybody down,” said Mowery, who started in the 2006 final against Ursinus. “Five of the freshmen have started since that freshman year. I think that’s a big factor in being back in the championship game.”