Aug. 26, 2009

By Douglas Kroll

The last five seasons have been dominated by Wheaton (Ill.) and Messiah in terms of championships in Division III.

But the 2009 season will see nearly every top player from 2008 returning, with a swell of underclassmen leading their respective teams a year ago.

Can Ithaca get back to the top for the first time since the early '90's?

Will anyone be able to stop the Lynchburg offense?

These are only two questions that will be answered in what will likely be a very exciting 2009 season on the pitch. Here's a look at 10 national championship contenders.


The 2008 season saw Amherst make it to the NCAA Tournament's Quarterfinals for the sixth time in school history, but a 1-0 loss to William Smith left the Lord Jeffs still in search of their first national championship. Sixth-year head coach Jen Hughes welcomes back one of the best goalkeepers in Division III this season, with Allie Horwitz returning for her sophomore season. In her freshman season, Horwitz went 10-2-2 while splitting time with Lili Ferguson, and will likely do so again. Senior midfielder Meg Murphy leads the charge on offense, having notched 13 goals in 2008.


Ithaca has made more trips to the NCAA Tournament than any other Division III school, with 19 in school history. The Bombers have also been the elite of the Empire 8, grabbing the top seed in seven of the eight previous conference tournaments. The 2009 season will see Ithaca look to capture its first national title since winning back-to-back championships in '90 and '91. Senior forward Winnie Adrien leads the charge for the Bombers after notching 18 goals in 2008. Head coach Mindy Quigg will see one of the toughest schedules in Ithaca history in 2009, facing five NCAA Tournament teams from 2008 including a showdown with defending national champion Messiah.

Johns Hopkins
The Blue Jays lost just one game in 2008, but unfortunately that came in the Sectional Semifinals. But there's reason to think 2009 will be just as successful, if not even more, for head coach Leo Weil's squad. Johns Hopkins only notched 51 goals a year ago, but it was led by a freshman in Erica Suter, who tallied 12 goals. Weil will also have Allie Zazzali returning, after scoring six goals - good for second on last year's team. Karen Guszkowski is back between the pipes for her senior season, coming off a year that saw her post a .895 save percentage - sixth in the nation. There's no reason to think the Blue Jays won't see success in the Centennial Conference once again in 2009, considering they have gone 28-1-1 in the last three seasons in conference play.


When you outscore opponents 55-4 in the first half of games, you are going to win a lot of them. Lynchburg finished the 2008 season with a 21-1-3 record, falling in the Sectional Semifinals. The Hornets had an impressive five goal scorers tally in double digits, and the best part for them is that they all return in 2009. Betsy Kwiatkowski and Katie Santos lead the pack of returners - the five combined for 82 of Lynchburg's 102 goals scored in 2008. Combine that with the dynamic junior goalkeeper due of Anna Wright and Jackie Bader, and things look real good in Lynchburg. Wright and Bader helped the Hornets post 17 shutouts in 2008, tied for second most in the nation.

Since 2004, the national championship has been handed out to either Messiah or Wheaton (Ill.), with the Falcons taking home the trophy in 2005 and 2008. Five straight appearances to the national semifinals have turned Messiah into a national powerhouse under tenth year head coach Scott Frey. And 2009 should be no different. Six of nine all-conference selections are back, including Division III Player of the Year Amanda Naeher. The senior tallied 33 goals and six assists in her junior season, leading the way on a team that posted 119 goals. Frey's squad has gone 28-0-0 at home the last two seasons, but will be tested early on against top-10 opponents Ithaca and Johns Hopkins on their home turf.


For a team that scored only 46 goals in 2008, going 18-2-2 was an impressive feat. Lindsey Rudibaugh was the only Cardinals player to hit double digits in goals with 10, and she returns for her junior season in 2009. Rudibaugh scored six of her goals in the team's last six games of the regular season, and led the team with 32 shots on goal. She was named to the All-OAC first team as well as the All-Great Lakes Region first team. Defender Jenny Knox is also back for Otterbein, as she helped lead a Cardinal defense that finished 11th in the nation in goals-against average (0.45) and 20th in shutout percentage (.636).

Washington (St. Louis)
The transition to head coach Jim Conlon was a pretty flawless one for the Bears. The first-year head coach led his squad to a third straight UAA championship in 2008 and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Five starters return in 2009, including first-team All-American defender Libby Held. Leading scorer Caryn Rosoff brings her nine goals back, on a Bears team that will look to ramp up the offensive production having posted only 40 goals a year ago.

Wheaton (Ill.)

Coming off national championships in 2006 and 2007, the thought of winning three in a row was very real for the Thunder when they matched up against Messiah in the national championship match a year ago. But a 5-0 drubbing left a bad taste in their mouths, that they will look to wash away in 2009. Eight starters return for head coach Pete Felske, including senior Taryne Lee, who set records in her junior season with 30 goals and 72 points. Lee is just five goals shy of the school record of 82 career goals. The biggest question mark for Wheaton will be in goal, where no matter who is named starter, they will have no prior collegiate experience. Look for Anna Wilcoxson and Hillary Barreto to compete for time between the pipes.

Making its first NCAA semifinals appearance since 1999, Williams outshot Wheaton (Ill.) 21-13 but fell 3-1 to lose for the first time all season. In 2009, the Ephs will look to make it back-to-back-to-back NESCAC titles, and they'll have plenty of talent back off last year's squad to do so. Leading the way will be goalkeeper Lauren Sinnenberg, a year after the senior recorded an .825 save percentage in starting all 21 games for head coach Michelyne Pinard. The Ephs will have to replace the scoring of Gabrielle Woodson, who led the team with 15 goals in 2008, but lookout for Brianna Wolfson after netting 11 goals a season ago.

William Smith
Head coach Aliceann Wilber is just 11 wins shy of the 400 plateau in her career, and considering William Smith has tallied 11 victories in each of the last 24 seasons, there's a pretty good chance Wilber will see No. 400 in 2009. In her 30th season, the 2008 Division III Coach of the Year will see 13 players with experience in the starting lineup back on campus. Offensively, William Smith returns its top three scorers, including first team All-American, BreLynn Nasypany. The Liberty League Player of the Year netted a team-high 15 goals and assisted on a team-high five more for 35 points, with eight of Nasypany's goals coming as game-winners.