Dec. 2, 2010

By Douglas Pils

Special to

Scott Frey has developed a simple method for success at Messiah College.

Work hard. Trust each other. Play defense. Win. Repeat.

Stay true to the first three, and even when the reigning NCAA Division III women's soccer player of the year goes down with an injury early in the season, you can't stop the last two. Frey's method made the Falcons record breakers this season as they chase a third straight NCAA title while playing in their seventh consecutive Final Four.

Top-ranked Messiah (23-0-0) enters Friday's semifinal against No. 10 William Smith (18-2-3) undefeated and on a D-III-record 75-match unbeaten streak despite senior forward Erin Hench tearing the ACL in her left knee in the first week of the season.

"That happens to every team," said Frey, 228-12-11 in 11 seasons with the Falcons. "You have to go through adversity and that's when you find out who you are. Every time there's a situation like that, there's an opportunity."

Second-ranked Hardin-Simmons (23-0-0) faces No. 3 Otterbein (20-0-3) at 5 p.m. CST in the first semifinal at San Antonio's Blossom Athletic Center. The Messiah-William Smith game will follow at 7:30 p.m. CST.

Frey's coaching philosophy has helped craft a run that ranks third across all NCAA women's soccer divisions behind North Carolina's 103- and 101-match streaks from 1986-90 and 1990-94.

"The (record) is not something you think is possible," said senior midfielder Amanda Naeher, the 2008 D-III player of the year. "But being a part of this team, that's how we train. We train to reach those kinds of goals and we train so we can make that goal possible."

Frey's seniors, including Naeher and Hench, have perfected the system. They've lost once in four seasons, going 95-1-3. Since falling in the 2007 national championship to Wheaton College, Messiah is 72-0-3, breaking two-time NCAA champion Ohio Wesleyan's D-III mark of 60 set from Sept. 5, 2001, to Oct. 22, 2003.

Hench, who will be back next year after receiving a medical redshirt, remained a leader after her injury, while five other seniors led the Falcons through the emotional loss of a valued teammate.

Naeher has 31 goals and 11 assists to extend her school records for goals and points to 107 and 250. Forward Joanna Haqq (six goals, nine assists) has started each game, giving her 80 career starts. Reserve midfielder Meagan Wademan has played in 15 games.

Defenders Katie Hoffsmith and Molly Bletz, who has 98 career starts, lead a suffocating defense that has allowed three goals this season and just 3.9 shots a game. They've helped junior goalkeeper Autumn Reilly (23-0) tie a D-III single-season record with 20 shutouts.

"They're the two best outside backs in the country," Frey said of Hoffsmith and Bletz.

The Falcons don't just rely on defense. They have 112 goals, and 10 players reached double-digit points this season. Aside from a couple of one-goal games against Johns Hopkins, including a 2-1 win on Nov. 21 to reach the Final Four, Messiah's toughest tests each week have come in practice.

"Every day, we played against the hardest team," Hoffsmith said. "We play against each other. We learn to play against the best teams in the country."

That created an atmosphere where four freshmen and seven sophomores were better prepared.

Three rose to earn All-Middle Atlantic Conference honors. Sophomore forward Corinne Wulf, second on the team with 19 goals, led the team with 14 assists. The other two are freshman defender Alicia Frey, Scott's daughter, and midfielder Alex Brandt, a sophomore transfer from Central Florida.

"Corinne exploded. Why? Because someone had to step into Erin's role," Frey said. "A lot of teams lose a player like (Erin) and wonder what they're going to do. We're like, `We have to solve the problem.'."

So far, the Falcons have done that.

Winning a third straight title would tie the D-III mark held by UC San Diego (1995-97). It would be the Falcons' fourth title under Frey, also tying UC San Diego.

But Frey doesn't focus on winning. Instead, he asks his players to realize a loss could happen at any time. Therein lies the motivation.

"We know every game we can lose," Frey said. "We know that. That's the reality. We can lose every time we step on the field, so we need to be at our best and that's what we try to do each time."

That's evident when listening to Naeher.

"If you asked everyone on the team, I think they would be unanimous in saying we don't think that we have met our full potential yet," Naeher said. "We, at this point, haven't really accomplished anything."