SAN ANTONIO — Erin Hench will have no regrets about her college soccer career at Messiah.
The fifth-year senior departed the Falcons program with three national championships, and one reconstructed left knee after she tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the first match of the 2010 season.
The injury meant she would stay in the program an additional year, and also led to many grueling hours of rehabilitation.
Her reward was leading the Falcons to the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship where she scored two goals and assisted on a third as Messiah defeated Wheaton (Ill.) 3-1 in the title match at Blossom Stadium Saturday afternoon.
It was the third time Hench has won a national championship, joining the ones Messiah captured in 2007 and 2008. It was also the programs fourth NCAA title.
Besides her offensive performance in the championship match, Hench also had a hat trick in the quarterfinals to lead her team to San Antonio.
Overcoming the knee injury was on her mind as she celebrated with her teammates.
“It was five months of rehab plus another couple of months of waiting to be able to play,” said Hench, who was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the tournament. “I also had to pay a couple of more dollars towards [her education] Messiah. It was all still worth it. I’d do it again.”
Messiah finished the season 23-0-1, and the senior class only lost one match in their careers, which was the 2010 NCAA championship match to Hardin-Simmons.
Wheaton, 23-2-2, made the Falcons work for this title. The Thunder scored the first goal of the game when Anna Seabolt scored on a header in the seventh minute.
Seabolt suffered a bloody nose on the play courtesy of a Messiah defender who challenged her in the air.
“I didn’t see it go in, because I was on the ground,” Seabolt said. “Hopefully, I’ll get some black eyes out of it.”
Hench felt her teammates handle the shock of falling behind early.
“I told my teammates that we needed contained urgency,” Hench said. “We couldn’t start freaking out, because we had time.”
Hench tied the match seven minutes later after receiving a perfect cross from fellow senior Lisa Wingard. Hench headed the ball into the net from the middle of the box.
“It was great ball,” Hench said. “I couldn’t decide if I should hit it with my head or foot. Finally, I said, ‘Let’s go head.’ I really didn’t have to do anything. It was all about the ball that was sent in by Lisa.”
Hench broke the tie in the 60th minute by scoring on her own rebounded shot. She helped seal matters with a perfect cross to teammate Hannah Weyland, who headed the ball into the net.
Messiah Coach Scott Frey was particularly proud of this championship, because of all the injuries and illnesses his team has suffered this season. Offensive standouts Corrine Wulf and Rachel Scheibeler suffered shoulder and ankle injuries on Saturday.
All season long, the next person to take someone’s position in the lineup produced positive results.
“That’s how you win a championship,” Frey said. “We have players who are ready and can play. Without question this might be one of the most memorable games this team has played.”
Wheaton Coach Pete Felske felt his team battled to the end but didn’t have enough to bear Messiah.
“They were the better team,” said Felske, whose team won NCAA titles in 2004, 2006 and 2007. “We can play with them. It was nice to get off to a good start. Our styles are contrasting, and if we made mistakes, we knew we would pay for them.”