Nov. 19, 2009

Messiah's Senior Moment
D-III Semifinals Notebook: They've Been Here Before

By Bob Birge
Special to

There is only one thing missing on the resume of legendary Messiah field hockey coach Jan Trapp - a national championship.

Trapp and the undefeated Falcons get another chance to capture the school's first field hockey title this weekend when they make their 13th appearance in the Division III final four, which takes place at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass.

There were no surprises in regional play last weekend, as the top four ranked teams advanced to the national semifinals by winning second- and third-round contests at home.

No. 1 Messiah (21-0) meets No. 3 Ursinus (20-2) in Saturday's first semifinal at 11 a.m., followed by a contest between No. 2 Salisbury (18-1) and No. 4 Tufts (18-1), last year's national runner-up, at 2 p.m.

The two semifinal survivors play for the title Sunday at 1 p.m.

Completing her 37th season at the helm of the Messiah program, Trapp has coached in more games (701) than any field hockey coach in NCAA history, regardless of the division.

On November 7, Trapp won her 500th game, becoming only the fourth NCAA coach in the sport (all divisions) to achieve that milestone. She has added two more victories in the NCAA tournament to improve her career mark to 502-171-28.

Yet the 1967 graduate of West Chester University has never won the final game of the season despite coming close so many times. The Falcons have fallen in the finals six times, most recently, losing in the championship to Ursinus in 2006.

Unlike some coaches, Trapp is not obsessed with winning a title.  Of course, that doesn't mean the Falcons won't be playing to win this weekend.

"We'd love to come home national champions, there's absolutely no question," Trapp said. "I know the girls have been working for that. If we don't win it, we'll be upset like anybody else."

Coming off its first undefeated regular season since 1984, Messiah figures to be the favorite this weekend.  However, Ursinus coach Laura Moliken believes the pressure is squarely on the Falcons.

`I think 21-0 is an absolutely awful burden to carry into a championship," said Moliken, who guided Ursinus to its only crown three years ago. "I think coaches will often tell you that (being undefeated) is not always an advantage."

Ursinus' only loss was a 4-3 defeat to Messiah in the second game of the season on Sept. 5.  Ursinus scored first, but the Falcons erupted for three goals in a span of less than two minutes late in the first half to take control.

Messiah boasts a pair of potent scorers in junior forward Kourtney Ehly (26 goals, 11 assists, 63 points) and senior forward Katie Love (24-11-59), who have combined for 122 points this season.

But the Falcons' true leader is junior midfielder Julie Barton, the Commonwealth   Conference Player of the Year.  While Barton only has eight goals and 12 assists, she  gets the offense going and scored the overtime game winner in last Sunday's 3-2 quarterfinal victory over Lebanon Valley College.

Ursinis is led by the trio of junior midfielders Megan Yoder (26-19-71), sophomore forward Alyssa Thren (32-6-70) and senior forward Jessica Zatwarnicki (19-15-53).

Thren, who is averaging a Division III-best 1.5 goals per contest, has established a Centennial Conference record for goals in a season. She broke the previous mark of 31 set last year by another Ursinus standout, Jenny Moore.

"She's a tremendous finisher around goal," Moliken said of Thren.  "She has such speed. This year one of her challenges has been to learn how to play great defense and she has gotten much better at that."

Ursinus loves to attack, out-shooting its opponents by a combined 726-207, which goes a long way toward explaining why the Bears average 6.95 goals per game, the highest total in Division III.

"They have great athletes, great scoring potential," Trapp said. "Our girls know they have to step it up and bring their best game. It's two similar teams playing each other, similar in playing styles."

Of all the teams in action this weekend, Salisbury leads the way with four national championships (1986, 2003, 2004 and 2005). The Sea Gulls' only loss in the regular season was a 3-2 overtime defeat to Messiah.

Tufts, which did not play any of the final four participants in the regular season,  is looking to return to the championship game after suffering a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime setback to Bowdoin in the finals last season.