Dec. 5, 2009

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By Gaylon Krizak
Special to NCAA.com

SAN ANTONIO –
If there’s such a thing as a 1-0 rout, this was it.

Amanda Naeher broke the ice with 21 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first half, the only goal the Messiah Falcons would get or need as they downed Washington University of St. Louis in Saturday’s NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championships.

The championship was Messiah’s second in a row and third overall, capping a three-year run in which the Falcons’ only loss was to Wheaton in the 2007 title match.

“Last year was different because it was the first one, at least for the three of us,” said Naeher, the Offensive Player of the Tournament, referring to herself, Defensive Player of the Tournament Katlyn Musser and forward Erin Hinch. “This year was a little different because we were defending it, and it was a little bit different because it was always a 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, overtime kind of thing.

“There was more of a feeling of accomplishment in that maybe we were able to push through a little more adversity we may have had last year in this run.”

The Falcons started off attacking with three forwards high and had numerous scoring chances early on. But none panned out until the 24th minute, when a throw-in to Hinch close to the corner led to a pass to Naeher at the top corner of the box. Naeher moved in a few steps, then fired a low shot past Bears goalie Clara Jaques.

“The way we were playing, I thought we would get a couple more,” Naeher said. “Which would have been nice, but, hey, I’ll take one.”

Messiah’s chances didn’t end there, but its scoring did. The Falcons wound up with a 16-6 shots advantage and a 7-1 edge in shots on goal. Put another way, Maeher had as many shots individually as Washington had as a team.

“Our mentality was to attack and go at teams, and that was our mindset from the very beginning,” said Messiah coach Scott Frey, who led the Falcons to D-III titles in 2005 and ’08 before Saturday’s victory. “We kept trying to get that second goal to end it, and we just couldn’t, to their credit.”

But the Messiah defense was built to make 1-0 leads stand up, and it did. Led by Musser, the back line of Katie Hoffsmith, Kelsey Gorman, Carey Cortese and Molly Bletz, and goalie Autumn Riley, the Falcons did not weather a serious threat until the closing two minutes.

“Our defense is the best defensive back row in the country, period,” Frey said. “And I’ll say that and I’ll take ’em against anybody. They’ve won two national titles in a row, that back four, and that says everything about them.

“They don’t give anybody good looks. There’s very few good looks by very good teams. They always keep us in the game and a day like today – we feel like we should have scored two or three. We don’t; we score one. But one’s enough with our back row.”

Washington (17-4-3), which finished as runner-up in its first Final Four appearance, pressed the attack in the closing minutes and got its only shot on Riley in a flourish led by Elyse Hanly and Felder. But the Bears were unable to force what would have been their fifth extra-time match in the tournament.

“There’s some people that call us ‘The Cardiac Kids’ because of the amount of overtime – that doesn’t really bother us,” second-year coach Jim Conlon said. “We know we’re going to work for each other and the outcome will come our way if we work hard enough. Unfortunately, we were a little short today.”

Messiah’s run to the ’09 championship was tougher than its ’08 run, which ended with a 5-0 rout of Wheaton in the final. Of their six NCAA Tournament matches, the Falcons won four by 1-0 margins and had just one decided by more than two goals.

The five Falcons seniors ended their careers with two championships, a runner-up finish and a semifinal loss. As for Hinch and the underclassmen?

“We get two weeks off now,” she said. “Christmas break.”

Joining Naeher and Musser on the All-Tournament Team were Hoffsmith and Amy Horst of Messiah; Held, Lee Ann  Felder and Emma Brown of Washington; Nikki Migliori and Jessica Clarke of The College of New Jersey; and Betsy Kwiatkowski and Brittany Klippstein of Lynchburg.