Messiah is the program used as the measuring stick when it comes to Division III women’s soccer.
So, it came as no surprise to William Smith to be facing the Falcons in Friday’s national semifinal in Blossom Stadium. The match kicks off at 12:00 p.m. ET.
Both teams enter the match undefeated with William Smith sporting a 20-0-1 record, while Messiah, which is looking for its third national championship in four years, is 21-0-1.
The only blemish on each team’s record came on September 10 when the teams battled to a scoreless tie.
“We would like some redemption,” William Smith senior goalkeeper Amanda Davis said. “We’ve lost twice in the semifinals to them before, and it wasn’t pretty. My freshman year we got blown out in North Carolina. Last year, we got blown out again.”
|Women’s DIII Soccer Championship Schedule|
|Semifinal #1, Messiah vs. William Smith, Friday 12:00PM|
|Semifinal #2, Wheaton (Ill.) vs. Ithaca, Friday 2:30PM|
|Title game, #1 winner vs. #2 winner, Saturday 2:30PM|
The Herons enter the match with a school-record 19 shutouts this season, including a 4-0 blanking of Williams in the quarterfinals.
William Smith coach Aliceann Wilber said there are many contributing factors to her teams stifling defense.
“It’s not just our back four and our keeper,” Wilber said, who is the first woman coach to win at least 400 NCAA games. “It is a total team effort and focus. Our possession has been better this year. We are able to control the ball longer.”
Davis is quick to point out the contributions of fellow senior defenders Jessie Tarantino, Sarah Tarantino and Alyse DiCenzo, who were all named academic All-Americans by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
“They are really good about talking to each other and communicating,” Davis said. “It’s been enjoyable for me. It has been nice to work out problems and just play. All the ingredients were there for us to be really good in the back.”
Messiah is entering the matchup on the heels of a 3-1 win against Amherst. Senior Erin Hench recorded a hat trick for the Falcons, who are making their eighth consecutive appearance in the national semifinals.
Success breeds success for this program, and Hench said the coaching staff does a good job of keeping everyone motivated.
“It is stressed to us that it doesn’t matter who we are playing,” Hench said. “Our standard is ourselves.”
She and her teammates felt even more motivation after losing the championship match in 2010.
“It is a reminder that you can’t take anything for granted and nothing is a given,” Hench said. “Even though we are here doesn’t mean that we’ve got it made. You can say that for all the teams that are here. We are all starting from scratch and are playing in a four-team tournament this weekend.”
Messiah Coach Scott Frey also reminds the players that each team is different. There are always freshmen entering the program and senior departing every year.
“The players and dynamics change every year, so that is how we look at it,” Frey said, who has led Messiah to NCAA titles in 2005, 2008 and 2009. “I tell them that you guys haven’t accomplished anything on this team. That was last year’s team. This is a new group. At the same time, they understand they are capable of accomplishing something like this. They have been a part of this and they know the work it takes.”
The seniors on the this year’s Messiah club have only lost one match in their careers and that was last year’s 2-1 setback to Hardin-Simmons in the championship match.
“Our season won’t be defined if we win or lose in the next couple of days,” Frey said. “Our players have had an unbelievable career.”
Wheaton (Ill.) is heading into Friday’s Division III women’s soccer national semifinals (1:30 p.m. ET) riding the momentum of a 4-2 come-from-behind victory against Washington-St. Louis in the quarterfinals.
The Thunder (22-1-2) trailed 2-0 with 17 minutes left when they scored three goals in less than three minutes.
Senior Kaitlyn Le Baudour scored twice on headers to tie the match and Keri Shannon added another goal a minute later to cap the stunning turnaround.
Le Baudour normally plays sweeper for the Thunder, but head coach Pete Felske made a tactical move to create offense by moving her to forward.
“I’m not a forward and coach told us he would have to make a decision like this if things weren’t going well,” Le Baudour said. “My teammates worked hard all around me. Everyone was doing their job, and we kept fighting. I got to be the one on the end who put the ball in the net.”
While erasing a two-goal deficit in such stunning fashion was great at the time, Felske’s task this week is to get his team to put that game behind them.
“We’ve been on such a high for a few days,” Felske said. “I told them it doesn’t mean we are winning the next game. It isn’t a predictor of the future. We have to get back to work. Our players are focused on the next thing to do.”
Ithaca (15-3-3) is making its first national semifinal appearance since 1998.
The only Bomber with previous final weekend experience is coach Mindy Quigg, who played on a NCAA championship team in 1988 with William Smith.
But Quigg doesn’t like to tell the players about her playing days. She wants her squad to create memories for themselves.
She’s also pleased with how her young team has progressed this season.
“Our seniors last year were a class of big personalities,” Quigg said. “This is a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores. This team had to find out about things like leadership, communication, how hard were there going to work and keep each other accountable when I wasn’t right there.”
The results say they found positive results.
“We knew if we pulled it together we could accomplish a lot with this team,” junior Rachael Paladino said, who leads the team with 15 goals. “We have a lot of talent. Our team has come together in the postseason.”