Dec. 4, 2010

Matt Rybaltowski, Special to NCAA.com

San Antonio - As a low shot by Geoff Pezon made it into the right side of the net to end Saturdays Division III men's soccer national championship, several Lynchburg (Va.) College players dropped to the ground in incredulity.

Pezons goal for Messiah in sudden-death overtime ended Lynchburgs bid for its first national championship in program history. The unranked Hornets, though, overcame tragedy and adversity just to make it to the finals.

In August, freshman defender Adam Seymour collapsed during the teams first practice of the season - a mile and a half midnight run. Seymour later passed away from heart failure after being taken to an area hospital.

Though the Hornets players only knew Seymour for several days, their teammate demonstrated the type of work ethic and passion for the sport that coach Chris Yeager has tried to instill into the program for the past nine years. The team held a memorial service for the 18-year old from Clifton, Va., several days later and prayed for him throughout the season.

We think about him all the time,” senior captain Michael Abbonizio said.

Then, midway through the season the Cam Smith, one of the teams top leaders, went down with a season-ending leg injury. The senior midfielder fractured his leg on a punishing tackle by a York (Penn.) defender as he made a run towards the goal.

I took over the role for Cam (in the midfield),” junior Shane Spanninger said. Ive been trying to fill his shoes - he was a really great player.”

Despite the loss of Smith, the unheralded Hornets pulled off a string of upsets in the Division III tournament, with victories over four of the nations top 12 teams. Lynchburg advanced to the finals after wins over No. 1 Ohio Wesleyan, No. 2 Trinity, No. 6 Bowdoin and No. 12 Emory.

In Fridays semifinals against Bowdoin, the Hornets were a minute away from elimination in regulation when sophomore Scott Colmans shot deflected off a Polar Bears defender and into the net for an equalizing goal. Minutes later, the Hornets stormed the field after Stephen Brooks header found the net with 16 seconds left in the first overtime.

Despite being heavy underdogs against Messiah, the two-time defending champions, the Hornets shut down the Falcons potent attack for the majority of Saturdays 2-1 loss. Messiah had just one shot on goal in regulation and didnt score the tying goal until 4:40 remained in regulation.

The guys went through a lot of adversity this year,” Yeager said. I thought we could get through the adversity of that goal, but it just didnt happen. Im just real happy for the guys, this (run) was a fantastic experience.”