Nov. 21, 2010

Grantham, PA -

Courtesy of Messiah Athletics

There are an abundance of words that one could use to describe Messiah's performance against visiting Dickinson College in Saturday night's NCAA Division III Sectional Semi-Final at Shoemaker Field, but one in particular seems to stand above the rest:

Dominance.

It only took Messiah a little over seven minutes to get the first goal of the night and the hosts never looked back, adding two second-half scores against the Red Devils to advance to Sunday's Sectional Final by a 3-0 score.

Messiah will face Johns Hopkins University Sunday evening at 6 p.m., as the Blue Jays held off a late rally from The College of New Jersey to advance by a 2-1 score in Saturday's other semi-final.

For the Falcons, Saturday's early game followed what has become the norm: Messiah asserted early dominance with two shots and two corner kicks in the opening five minutes, eventually ripping off 25 shots on the evening.

In the beginning of the eighth minute, senior Joanna Haqq beat her defender on the left side of the field and went towards the end line, crossing the ball to the far post after creating more space. The ball sailed high but was found by leaping sophomore Corinne Wulf, who headed home her 17th goal of the season.

Dickinson (16-4-2) did its collective best to keep Messiah (22-0) off the board for the remainder of the period, and found some good fortune when it appeared the Falcons would certainly add to its lead in the 42nd minute. A Messiah corner kick resulted in three shots within a 15-second microburst, each one seemingly more prone to find the back of the net than the previous: Freshman Alicia Frey ripped a shot from 10 yards out that was blocked, classmate Ali Rogers fired the rebound back on frame that was saved, and sophomore Rachel Scheibeler's final put-back attempt banged off the crossbar.

With only a 1-0 lead in hand despite a 10-0 advantage in first-half shots and endless possession, Messiah head coach Scott Frey said his team's lead could have been wider, but Dickinson held strong.

"We had the chances to make it a bigger lead, but we didn't finish our chances," he said. "We had good chances in the first half, but we didn't finish well early. That always gives them a chance to stay in the game."

The second half was somewhat similar to the first, except for the results.

In the 59th minute, senior Amanda Naeher laced a shot with pace from 25 yards out. The shot dipped and was saved by the fingertips of Dickinson goalkeeper Annie Weichert, then deflected off the crossbar.

That's when Wulf's tenacity kicked in. With great energy, Wulf darted towards the ball and volleyed the shot for her 18th goal of the season and a 2-0 Messiah lead.

With just under nine minutes to play, the Falcons tacked on a final goal in similar fashion. Frey hit a signature long shot from 25 yards as well, but this time, it was a low liner toward the far post. Weichert was there for the initial save, but she could not handle the paced shot and Rogers cleaned up the garbage, sealing Messiah's advancement to the sectional finals.

Messiah finished with a 25-0 advantage in shots and an eight to nothing difference in corner kicks. Dickinson led in just one stat category, earning four fouls to the hosts' none.

Frey played all 21 available players liberally, but it was the 22nd player earning a `DNP' that drew notice.

Junior defender Kelsey Gorman did not start or play in the game due to an undisclosed injury - the first collegiate game the Manheim, Pa. native did not start or play in; a streak of 72 straight games.

This might seem like a problem for some, but not for Frey.

Already having lost Erin Hench, last year's NCAA Division III National Player of the Year to a season-ending knee injury, Frey again leaned on his team's seemingly endless depth for support.

"There was one difference from tonight's game than the first time we played Dickinson," said Frey, referring to the Falcons' 6-0 win at Dickinson Sept. 22. "That was that we didn't give up anything (shots or corners). Our center backs were fantastic. (Sophomore) Annie (Trapp) was very good, (sophomore) Tannia (Nieto) was steady, (senior) Katie Hoffsmith was her normal self and (senior) Molly (Bletz) was big and strong on the wing. But in particular, our center backs looked great tonight. They were very steady and solid for us."

Frey continued with high praise for his team's midfield possession play.

"(Junior) Leah (Sipe) was Leah," Frey said. "She took care of things in the middle and won balls. That helped us out a lot. But (sophomore) Alex (Brandt) was dangerous for us offensively. She played some great penetrating balls that we should have finished for her, but she was very good. Overall, I thought we played well. It was a good effort with good energy and good pressure. We, as a group, made it hard for their entire team for the entire game. We pressured them and stopped their pressure. There never really was a moment that it was close."

Now the Falcons will hope to win their way to a seventh consecutive `Final Four,' as a very familiar sectional field continues to unfold: In addition to Dickinson, Messiah also defeated Johns Hopkins earlier in the year, knocking out the Blue Jays by a 2-1 score at JHU's Homewood Field Sept. 8.

Sunday's contest will also feature a re-match of last year's NCAA Sectional Final, where the Falcons beat Hopkins by a 3-1 score -- also in Baltimore.

With a spot in this year's NCAA National Semi-Finals on the line, Sunday's game proves to be yet another exciting chapter in the storied rivalry. Game time is set for 6 p.m. at Shoemaker Field. Live Stats and Live Audio will be available.