Dec. 4, 2010

By Douglas Pils

Seven seniors played a big role in Hardin-Simmons' run to the NCAA Division III womens soccer Final Four and Saturday's victory over Messiah for the program's first national title.

Midfielders Amy Kuykendall and Carlyn Powers and defender Sarah Stansell have been starters since their freshman year.

Starting defender Allison Ray played all over the field in her career. Midfielder Erin Low recovered from a broken nose and delivered the game-winning goal in the 2-1 title victory over two-time champion Messiah.

Defenders Becca Gault and Kelsey Byars have also been starters and provided depth.

That group changed the culture. We already had a good culture, but they made it stronger,” said coach Marcus Wood, who is 198-24-19 in 11 seasons at the Texas school. Theyve taught me a lot … They taught me how to be more patient. Patience is a big part of this game. Theyve taught me a lot about character. Theyre kids I generally admire in every sense.”

The championship night belonged to Low, who was named the tourney's offensive most valuable player. She entered the game with four goals on the season and 12 for her career. But she deflected a corner kick off her thigh near the left post in the sixth minute that wound up being the game-winner.

She pushed the ball the first half, when the Cowgirls outshot the potent Falcons and she defended well in the second half.

Tonight, honestly, was the best game of her life,” Wood said. I coached Erin in club and Ive been in Abilene for 11 years, so shes 22 and this was the best game of her life. She was unbelievable.”

Kuykendall, Gault and Stansell provided three of the four made shots when the Cowgirls advanced 4-2 on penalty kicks in Fridays semifinal against Otterbein.

In the past four seasons, the Cowgirls have gone 78-7-5.

GREAT RUN NOT OVER: Messiah was playing in its seventh straight Final Four and its fourth straight championship game.

The Falcons saw a Division III record 76-game unbeaten streak on Saturday, but chances are pretty good theyll be back to extend their run to the Final Four and title game.

Midfielder Amanda Naeher graduates as the schools all-time leader in goals and points with 108 and 252, but losing her will be soothed with three facts:

* Erin Hench, the 2009 Division III player of the year, will return next year after missing almost all of what was supposed to be her senior season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury to her left knee.

* Of the Division III-leading 117 goals the Falcons scored this season, players who scored 76 of them will be back next year, including Corinne Wulf (19 goals, 14 assists) and Alicia Frey (14 goals, 10 assists).

* Messiah goalkeeper Autumn Reilly put her name in the record book with 21 shutouts this season, and shes just a junior.

Reilly, who broke the record Friday night in a 4-0 semifinal win over William Smith, came to San Antonio tied for the mark with Puget Sounds Erin Williams and the 20 she had in 2005.

Reilly broke the Messiah record of 18 set by current assistant coach Maggie Futato in the Falcons first championship season in 2002.

KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY: Kuykendall, who came to the Abilene in 2006 and missed 2007 with an ACL injury, leaves as the Cowgirls all-time leader in several categories: 76 goals, 198 points, 18 game-winning goals, 343 shots, 97 games and 88 starts.

If anyone breaks her records soon, it could be sister and sophomore midfielder Katie Kuykendall. She has 17 goals, 46 assists, 80 points, seven game-winners, 140 shots, 47 games and 47 starts.