December 2, 2011

It's No. 1 Messiah and No. 8 Wheaton for the championship

Cover photo: Wheaton senior Erin Strom defends against the Ithaca attack in Wheaton's 2-0 win. All photos for by Emily Daum.

Match reports by Christan Shirk

Wheaton scored two goals in the second half on the way to a 2-0 win over Ithaca in the day's second semifinal. Earlier, Messiah also used a second half goal to win their semifinal match with William Smith.  The two teams will face off on Saturday at 1:30 pm for the national championship.

Saturday's final will give one of these teams a fourth national championship. The NCAA title has been captured by Wheaton or Messiah in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Hardin-Simmons took the title in 2010 in a 2-1 win over the Falcons.

Messiah 1, William Smith 0

Junior Alex Brandt scored in the 69th minute to give Messiah a 1-0 win over William Smith. With the victory, the Falcons will move on to the national title match for the fifth year in a row, facing Wheaton. The Herons end their impressive season at 21-1-1.

Juniors Alex Brandt and Rachel Scheibeler celebrate Brandt's gamewinning goal

This match had all the earmarks of a one-goal game if that.  The two played 110 scoreless minutes in mid-September, the season’s only blemish for each, the futility extending another 69 minutes before a great shot, deserving of deciding a game such as this, finally reached its target.  The play started when Rachel Scheibeler received the ball near the top left corner of the box and slid a pass toward the middle for Alex Brandt to meet as she neared the top of the arc. Brandt’s first touch set her up to bang the ball goal-ward—the upper-right corner the destination—and the strong shot rose to meet the underside of the crossbar and rebound down inside the goal as the clock ticked down on.  The author of the game-winner seemed shocked by what she had done, admitting afterwards she thought it was going to be too high.  

It was a deserved breakthrough for Messiah who had been out-possessing William Smith and winning the midfield battle all game.  The Heron defense, however, was very strong and rather stubborn in not allowing the Falcons too many good looks at goal.  

Of the opening tap, Messiah was immediately into their game with more sustained possession over the opening 10 minutes.  About five minutes in it resulted in a corner when Erin Hench found the feet of Rachel Scheibler entering the box, but the Herons forced the corner which they then cleared away.  When William Smith was able to get the ball they attacked with urgency, often hitting a good first outlet pass, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Messiah backline.  

Messiah first good chance came at the 17 minute mark when a patient build-up resulted in cross that Alicia Frey was only able to weakly half-volley toward the keeper.  At this point William Smith made an adjustment by pulling Dineo Mmulta back into midfielder where Messiah had the upper hand.  Soon after Messiah’s Lisa Wingward broke down the right side to make a promising low cross, but the defense managed to win the 50-50 ball and clear.  

William Smith had their first attempt on goal 27 minutes into the game when Renee Jensen tried from long range but ballooned it well over.  They almost immediately got another chance when Messiah was sloppy in possession just outside their box, but the danger was cleared.  A minute later the Heron movement was good, combining down the right channel to beat the defense and send a cut-back pass into the box which was shot wide of the goal.  

Heron Senior Alyse DiCenzo puts the ball out of reach of Falcon senior Erin Hench

Hench won the resulting goal kick, passing to Brandt who raced down the middle before pushing the ball past the retreating defensive line for a streaking Corrine Wulf who shot just high over the crossbar with the goal keeper rushing out at her.  Possession evened out for a ten minute spell, with play going back and forth from the middle to later stages of the half.  With eight minutes remaining before the break, Madeline Buckley won a 50-50 ball against Kelsey Gorman just inside the Messiah half and she looked set to for a one-on-one with the goalkeeper before Anne Trapp intervened for the Falcons.

Then the tide swung to the Falcons who pinned the Herons back with attack after attack.  In the 38th minutes Wingard got behind her defender to serve a low cross the was cleared and Scheibeler set up Hench for a shot that was blocked in the 39th minute.  Heron keeper Amanda Davis did well to punch away a corner kick in the 40th minutes, however, the ball was right back in the area and Davis came way off her line to no avail and had her teammates to thank that Messiah couldn’t find the space to shot on the open net.  The Falcon pressure did not end.  Mackenize Clapper set Scheibeler free near the left endline and her pass across the 6-yard box was just a little behind Wingard crashing in at the far post.  A Messiah corner with 3 minutes remaining  was haf-volleyed by Hench tamely into the keepers arms. 

Finally, with 1 minute on the clock, William Smith finally broke the pressure and won a midfield free kick that was sent into the box and headed on but cleared without too much trouble for the last significant action of the opening stanza.

Messiah again started the second half stronger, but quality chances were still hard to come by.  Some nice interplay in the box in the 52nd minute was impressive but came to naught.  But Williams Smith just couldn’t work the ball through the Messiah midfield once in possession, rarely able to get into the attacking third of the field.  But the Herons continues to repel all Messiah efforts and then finally in the 57th minute had their first push into scoring range only to be dispossessed at the edge of the area.  And again in the 61st minute they moved the ball to the endline before it was lost out of bounds.  

Messiah had a great chance a minute later. Wingard beat her defender down the right side before laying the ball back for Hench to shoot.  It was blocked back to Hench who squared to Sheibeler who sent the ball the bottom left corner forcing Davis to make the save of the game going down at full stretch to palm it wide of the post.  

Messiah junior Elizabeth Phillips steps in front of William Smith freshman Dineo Mmutla

A 65th minute William Smith free kick on the left about 20 yards from the end line was dealt with by Messiah.  Messiah cam close to breaking the deadlock in the 68th minute when Brandt beat two defenders in the right corner to lay the ball back for Hench who cut baseline and sent a centering pass that was kicked behind for a corner with two Falcons bearing down.  Two minutes later, the Falcons would not be denied with Brandt’s well-placed effort giving the Falcons that precious first goal.  As Messiah head coach Scott Frey commented after the game, “the game was going to be decided either by a mistake or a moment of brilliance—and we found that moment of brilliance.”  Indeed, they did.

The Herons would try to respond immediately.  Renee Jensen got past her defender and to the endline, but her teammates were slow getting into the area and the centering pass went begging.  The Herons raised their intensity and made it more of a 50-50 game.  After a Falcon attack, William Smith went the other way and got a shot off from inside the box that Messiah’s keeper O’Reily smothered to preserve the lead.  A long ball found Jensen a couple minutes later but she couldn’t keep possession, and another long ball was won by Chelsea England but she rushed couldn’t find a teammate and lost out.  The Herons were lacking patience and maybe some tiredness was beginning to show as support from the midfield was slow in coming.  But the intensity was there for William Smith which also showed in their more aggressive challenges and tackles.  

However, William Smith’s push for an equalizer faded in the final ten minutes as Messiah reasserted themselves.  The Falcons threatened numerous times before the final whistle, but the Heron defense held.  The clock ticked down to zeros, with Messiah advancing to the title game with a much deserved 1-0 win.  In the match, Messiah outshot William Smith 12-1 and led 8-1 in corner kicks. Heron senior Amanda Davis had five saves on the day, while Falcon senior Autumn Reilly had one.

Wheaton (Ill.) 2, Ithaca 0

The second match featured a strong performance in the goal by Ithaca junior Becca Salant, but her 11 saves weren't enough in the 2-0 loss to Wheaton. The Bombers wrap up their fine season at 15-4-3, while Wheaton moves on to the national championship match.

 Ithaca junior keeper Becca Salant had 11 saves against Wheaton

In a steady rain, Wheaton and Ithaca felt each other in the opening ten minutes.  After that, Wheaton took over.  It was wave after wave of Thunder attacks as the Ithaca Bombers were pinned in their own half for five straight minutes, but keeper Becca Salant was backing up her bend-but-not-break defense superbly.  Wheaton was finding much of their success down the right side with Ali Kopelman causing her defender problems and serving dangerous balls into the area. 

The Thunder surge let up, but only a little.  But Ithaca seemed to have steadied themselves and were able to counter on occasion, sometimes threatening to score against the run of play.  But most of the action continued in their half for the better part of the opening stanza.  It was a dominating display with Ithaca unable to deal with Wheaton’s speed all over the field, but a goal continued to elude Wheaton as the game passed the half hour mark.

Then the Bombers had their own mini-surge from about the 33 to 36 minute mark, pinning Wheaton back in their own half and forcing them to play defense.  The Thunder dealt with the pressure, not giving Ithaca much in the way of quality chances and soon regained control of the proceedings.  In the 40th minute they had maybe their best chance of the half to finally open the scoring when the ball fell for Jaime Orewiler in the box with space, but her effort sailed high.  The game would remained scoreless into the break.

Wheaton freshman Anna Seabolt celebrates her gamewinning goal against Ithaca 

The Thunder threatened right off the restart.  A centering pass to the top of the 6-yard area had Kopelman and Anna Seabolt bearing down but Salant alert and quick enough to smoother the ball just in time.  After a period of action primarily in the middle third of the field, Wheaton again was attacking the Ithaca goal with Keri Shannon beating two defenders along the right endline and cutting the ball back to Kopelman at the edge of the area.  Kopelmen one timed the ball into the area and Seabolt sent a glancing header just inside the near post.  Wheaton had finally beaten Salant and were more than deserving of their 1-0 lead eight and half minutes into the second half.

With Wheaton dominating possession, Ithaca showed impatience when they did get hold of the ball, taking a low percentage shot from distance in the 64th minute.  Two minutes later it was pair of dangerous corner kick chances for Wheaton, the first going to the far post and headed back across the goal mouth begging for a tap-in that never came before being cleared out for the second which resulted in a shot saved by Salant.  In the 68th minutes Orewiler cut through the midfield and in acres of space let rip from 25 yards out, skimming the crossbar and going over. 

Wheaton senior Jaime Orewiler and Ithaca sophomore Amanda Callanan battle for control

The frustration for Ithaca was growing and the frequency and intensity of the fouls increased in an effort to slow the Thunder down.  But its effect was minimal.  A 73rd minute cross was deftly redirected by Orewiler into the path of Kopelman who shot wide left.  A minute later Katelyn Kishkunas entered the Ithaca box from the right with the ball at her feet and went down under contact from behind.  The referee pointed to the spot under protest from the Bombers, and Orewiler converted when she sent the keeper the wrong way and shot to the left for the 2-0 advantage.

Ithaca was unsuccessful in mounting much of a response, but not for lack of trying.  If another goal was to be scored it was more likely going to come from Wheaton.  And that nearly happened at the 82nd minute mark on a great individual effort from Seabolt.  She burst though the midfield into the box wide right and delivered a hard shot from a tough angle that was saved. 

Ithaca’s last push came with a little over 4 minutes remaining.  They earned a corner that was sent to Amanda Callanan who fended off a couple defends to lay the ball off for a 20 yard shot that was deflected and out for another corner kick.  This time the ball fell loose in the area and pin-balled around but never fell for an Ithaca player to poke it home. Wheaton would preserve the shutout and advance to the final against Messiah.  Wheaton outshot Ithaca 28-3 and had a 9-1 advantage in corner kicks. Senior Rachael Pallidino had 3 shots for Ithaca, while Orewiler had 5 shots for Wheaton.


The photos above and many more from Friday's action are available via 

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