Nov. 23, 2008

Grantham, Pa. - For the sixth time in the last seven years, the Messiah women's soccer team is headed to the Final Four.

Messiah handed Eastern University a 2-0 defeat at Shoemaker Field in Sunday afternoon's NCAA Sectional Final, duplicating its regular-season result over the Eagles to punch a ticket to Greensboro, North Carolina and the national semi-finals in two weeks. The Falcons will meet up with fifth-ranked William Smith College Friday, Dec. 5 at a time to be announced. Twenty-second rated Wheaton College (Ill.) and top-ranked Williams College (Mass.) will meet in the other semi-final, also on Friday.

"First of all, you have to remember, this (trip to the Final Four) is the only one for this team," said Scott Frey, Messiah head coach. "They've played well all year long, and they've earned it. I thought today was one of the best physical efforts we've put forth in a long time. If we hadn't, the flow of the game could have been much different."

Messiah -- ranked second in the latest NSCAA/Adidas Top 25 Poll -- changed the landscape of Sunday's contest less than 17 minutes in, as junior Amanda Naeher got the Falcons on the board at the 16:33 mark. Taking a feed from sophomore Erin Hench on the left side of the field, Naeher took a touch and fired a left-footed shot from a flat angle that beat Eastern goalkeeper Amanda Daveler to the far post. It was one of 10 first-half shots for Messiah, as the Falcons kept Eastern off the stat sheet entirely during the game's first 45 minutes.

"I thought we were really, really good in the first half today," Frey said. "We executed on the things we talked about and we kept pressing forward. Eastern is a very good defensive team and they make it tough to get anything through. I was very pleased with the manner in which we controlled the ball during the first half."

Naeher nearly made it a 2-0 game at the 27:49 mark, getting into the box off a nifty dribble move and firing a low blast that ricocheted off Daveler's chest. Slipping to the turf after firing, both Naeher and Daveler laid on the ground as the ball spun rapidly on its side almost directly between the two, tantalizingly close to both. As Naeher sprung to her feet for an attempted putback, the spin of the ball brought it back into the arms of Daveler, preserving the 1-0 score.

Eastern (17-6) had perhaps its most dangerous push early in the second period, as the Eagles slowly shifted the area of possession to the Falcons' defensive third of the field after surviving yet another Messiah surge at the outset of the half. Following four Messiah shots and a corner kick in the period's first five minutes, Eastern tested Messiah's back line of junior Carey Cortese, sophomores Katie Hoffsmith and Molly Bletz and freshman Kelsey Gorman throughout an eight-minute stretch, though no shots were fired toward the Falcons' cage.

Frey's club then got the all-important second goal at the 75:20 mark, as freshman Olivia Scott received a pass from Hench while making a run down the left slot. Cutting the ball back and chipping a shot from 16 yards out, Scott's effort was nicked by an Eagles' defender, knuckling just under the crossbar and out of Daveler's reach to provide the hosts with some insurance.

"Eastern came out pressuring early in the second half, and we kind of panicked," Frey said. "When you panic, you give the ball away and it leads to some transition. Obviously, Obes' (Scott's) goal was huge. I thought we settled in again following the first 20 minutes or so."

The Eagles recorded just one shot toward Messiah's frame, coming off the foot of Tess Beckwith at the 84:10 mark. Beckwith got past Cortese and began dribbling uncontested at older sister and Messiah senior goalkeeper Brindley Beckwith, but Gorman was able to take an angle and force a much earlier shot than the Eagles' Beckwith would have liked -- the effort being calmly scooped by Messiah's Beckwith for her only save of the day.

Messiah out-shot Eastern by a 20-1 difference and earned five corners to none for the Eagles, numbers eerily similar to the Falcons' 2-0 win Oct. 8 (which boasted a 21-5 difference in shots and a 6-0 disparity in corner kicks).

"We've tried to hang our hats on our defense here, and we've done that this year," Frey said. "We want to attack, but it starts with solid play in the back. When we're good back there, you feel confident throwing numbers up front. I can't say enough about how our back line has played all season long. They've been so steady for us."

With Sunday's win, Messiah advances to its fifth straight Final Four, going in each of the last seven years save for 2003. Eastern concludes its season making its deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history, making just its second-ever appearance in NCAA post-season play.

Messiah and William Smith will meet for the first time in the two programs' history in this year's national-semi final. William Smith advanced behind a 1-0 win over Amherst College Sunday. On the other side of the bracket, top-ranked Williams College makes its first-ever appearance in the Final Four following a 2-0 win over Ithaca College. Wheaton College -- winners of three of the last four national championships, including last year's 1-0 decision over Messiah -- arrives via a 2-1 win over Carleton College.

Game times and additional details will be announced by the NCAA later this week. Check back to this website for the most up-to-date information regarding the 2008 NCAA Division III Women's Soccer Championships.