GRANTHAM, Pa. -- On a day the Messiah Falcons hosted four conference championship games for the first time in the school’s history, the field hockey team did its part early on. The Falcons (14-3) knocked off the Alvernia Crusaders (13-7) by a 7-1 score, giving Messiah its fifth consecutive Commonwealth Conference title and unprecedented 11th in 12 years.

Junior Emily Hursh led the scoring barrage, collecting her first collegiate hat trick and taking home the tournament MVP award. In all, four different players scored goals, six collected assists, and the seven goals Messiah scored represented its highest scoring output of the season.

“The girls play together and play as a team,” said Jan Trapp, Messiah’s 39-year head coach. “There’s no one on the team that wants the accolades. They want to play as a team, not as an individual, and that’s the way they are.”

The Falcons’ win was their 18th conference title in the program’s history – all with Trapp at the helm.

“It’s just awesome with the way we were struggling at the beginning [of the season] and now we just seem to be really playing well,” Trapp said. “The fact that we scored early was just another boost, so I hope that our momentum keeps us going into the [NCAA playoffs].”

Unlike Wednesday’s conference semifinal contest against Elizabethtown, the Falcons wasted no time scoring, jumping on the board just 57 seconds into the game.

Hursh’s goal off a pass from junior midfielder Natalie Ziegler gave the Falcons a 1-0 lead against an Alvernia team they had beat 4-0 earlier in the season. The quick score set the tone for the rest of Saturday’s matchup, as the Falcons scored again at 2:51 mark and once more at 8:16, taking an almost immediate three-score lead against the Crusaders.

Junior Juliana Hershey scored the second goal – her team-leading 22nd – with classmate Emily Bower taking the assist, and sophomore Brooke Sands followed with a goal, driving the ball from the center of the circle after a pass from senior Kourtney Ehly. Just like that, the Falcons had scored three times in just eight minutes against a Crusaders defense that had allowed only 1.75 goals against (per game) all season.

“I was just hoping the girls wouldn’t get overconfident here,” Trapp said. “That’s exactly what I was thinking. They continued to play hard though, as they have the whole year.”

Alvernia momentarily threatened, putting in a goal 10 minutes before halftime, cutting the Messiah lead to a 3-1 game. It was the first goal scored against the impervious Falcons defense since October 8, a streak that spanned eight games and lasted just over 513 game minutes.

The Crusaders nearly scored again in the closing minutes of the first half, but sophomore goalkeeper Molly Gebrosky made a phenomenal save on an arcing shot, swatting the ball away, and allowing the Falcons defense to control the ball until intermission.

“We had practiced that corner,” Trapp said. “They had done that exact one on us before and we had practiced it, were aware of it, and were ready for that, and the girls executed it well so that was good to see. The defense just stepped up really big in the backfield and stopped so many of [Alvernia’s] shots. We knew they were a fast break team so we practiced that way.”

The Falcons kept the momentum going in the second half, as Ziegler scored on a corner to put the Falcons up 4-1. Sands passed to Ziegler on the corner, and Ziegler hit a straightaway shot that deflected off of Alvernia goalkeeper Wunsch’s stick and went into the goal.

“We scouted some of their corners so we were well prepared there,” Trapp said.”We had also played them before, so we knew what their defense was like. We figured we had some corners we could use against that defense and that worked pretty well for us.”

Messiah continued controlling the ball efficiently, finishing the day with a clear advantage in both shots (22-5) and penalty corners (14-4).

Constant pressure on the Crusaders allowed the Falcons to break through for two more goals in a 64-second span in the middle of the second half. Each was scored by Hursh, who capped off a memorable offensive performance, with assists credited to Kelly Martin and Hershey for the first goal, and senior Kilee Rosenberry for the ensuing goal.

“[Emily] played awesome today,” Trapp said. “She’s been just getting better and better the last couple of games, and her stickwork has improved. She is just doing a great job.”

The first of those two goals came on a penalty corner, with Hershey passing the ball to Martin, who quickly passed to Hursh. Hursh capped it off by nailing the ball into the goal. Less than a minute later, Ehly utilized tremendous stickwork on a breakaway, dribbling the ball down the left side of the field to get the Falcons in position to score. Ehly’s pass to Rosenberry was relayed to Hursh, who tapped the ball in.

Those goals demonstrated the effectiveness of the Messiah offense – a well-executed penalty corner resulted in the first score, while stickwork and timely passing scored the next.

“Those were two great goals,” Trapp said. “Kourtney [Ehly] just makes things happen. [Assistant coach Michael Warari] looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, that’s an All-American move,’ and it was. Moving to the back of the diamond, [Kourtney] doesn’t score as much but she just makes things happen. The offense as a whole is a very balanced scoring attack, even though Juliana is our high scorer. You can’t let any of those girls free because they’ll put the ball in the cage.”

Sands topped off the scoring at the 61:45 mark with a hard line drive blasted from the top of the circle. It was the second goal of the day for Sands and the second assist for Rosenberry, who had set Sands up for the goal with an opportune pass.

The win extends Messiah’s winning streak to eight games, and enables the Falcons to finish the season a perfect 8-0 in conference play. It was also the 39th consecutive win for Messiah on its home turf, a remarkable achievement that dates back to early in the 2008 season.