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Messiah wins first-ever national field hockey crown
Ephrata’s Pfautz, Wilkerson named to all-tourney team
No. 1 Messiah College played through freezing temperatures, wind, and snow against No. 3 Tufts University in the NCAA Division III national championship on Sunday in Geneva, New York, and came away with a 1-0 decision in penalty strokes to capture its first field hockey crown.
The Falcons had been the national runner-up eight times before winning the championship on Sunday.
Messiah, which is coached by Ephrata High School graduate Brooke Good, features 13 Lancaster-Lebanon League grads, including three from EHS. The former Lady Mounts include: senior forward Moriah Pfautz; junior midfielder Nicole Wilkerson; and junior defender Alyssa Sadorf.
Other L-L players on Messiah’s roster include: forward Carissa Gehman (Lancaster Mennonite), midfielder Kaylor Rosenberry (Lancaster Mennonite), defender Sara Brooks (Hempfield), defender Shayna Landis (Lancaster Mennonite); forward Logan Ryan (Hempfield); forward Taylor Wiederrecht (Manheim Central); midfielder/defender Casey Stief (Warwick); goalie Megan Bomba (Warwick); forward Mattie Berger (Manheim Central); and forward/midfielder Kristen Musser (Conestoga Valley).
“I’m very proud of this team and their effort, they really laid it all on the line,” Good said Sunday. “We talked before the game about facing adversity, and the conditions today were a part of that, and it took us well beyond 70 minutes to do it.
“But this is really special, to be able to say we won the first national championship, and that it came at the very last possible moment.”
That last moment came in the penalty shootout after the teams battled for 70 minutes of regulation and another 30 minutes of overtime without either team getting a goal. In the shootout Messiah keeper Shelby Landes came up with a diving stop on the Jumbos’ Dominique Zarrella to start things off, and Gehman followed with a sweeping goal to put the Falcons up 1-0. After a missed attempt by Tufts’ second shooter, Landis beat keeper Emily Polinski to the right side for a 2-0 lead.
Messiah’s 2-0 lead held until the fourth round when Fallon Shaughnessy scored one for Tufts and Polinski denied Kezia Loht. That brought up Tufts’ fifth-and-final shooter, Annie Artz, and she had her attempt knocked away by Landes’ stick to secure the Falcons’ win.
Every Messiah player and coach hesitated to celebrate for a few seconds as they looked to the official to confirm the decision. As the official finally did so, the Falcons raced in to celebrate the program’s milestone victory.
“Anyone who knows me well, knows that I’m rule-follower,” Good said with a laugh. “Our players knew that they needed to stay back behind the line until we got the go-ahead. We knew mathematically that it was over, but everyone looked at me with such anticipation. It almost makes it even sweeter, that we all realized we wanted to do it only when we knew for certain that it was ours.”
The moment of hesitation was almost fitting considering both the history of the program and the afternoon between Messiah and Tufts. After all, Messiah had lost in their previous eight trips to the National Championship, with every single defeat coming by either a single goal or in a penalty shootout. Today’s game had the making of heartbreak for one of the two teams, and it almost seemed too good to be true that Messiah finally earned the honor of hoisting the championship trophy.
“I’ve been (to this game) quite a few times,” Good said, thinking back on her six National Runner-Up finishes, two as a player and four as an assistant coach. “We’ve had some really talented teams in the past, and this team is also very talented. But they also work so well together, and it’s a different player each time that steps up to make a big play. They wanted to make each other better, and they wanted to win together. They’re willing to either put the team on their own back, or to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the team, and that’s what made the difference.”
The difference was certainly noticeable as Messiah won the title, but it was the accumulation of so many heart-stopping moments that made Sunday’s final a game for the ages. The match-up between Messiah and Tufts featured the nation’s No. 1-rated offense (Messiah, 4.81 goals per game) against the nation’s No. 3-rated defense (Tufts, 0.64 goals against average). In-between those numbers, and on display from start to finish, was the excellent and skillful play of both teams across all areas of the field. Truly, it was a blow-for-blow contest with each team refusing to give in.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t chances for either team, some of them more dangerous than others. Gehman had perhaps the loudest miss of the afternoon, and it came in just the 10th minute of play when she launched an Argentinian backhand from the left side that banged off the top corner of the crossbar. That literal loud miss was one of just two shots the Falcons collected in the first 30 minutes, while their defense was hard at work in keeping the Jumbos off the board.
Tufts’ chances in the first-half came mainly off five attack penalty corners in the first 20 minutes of play. Messiah defenders blocked three of the resulting shots, while Landis made an impressive defensive save on another to clear away a shot by Celia Lewis. Shelby Landes made a save on the fifth of those corners.
That defensive greatness did not go unnoticed by Good, who the day before identified how the Falcons’ own attack penalty corners wore down No. 7 Babson in the National Semifinal.
“That defensive team for us is known as our ‘D-Unit,’” Good said proudly of that crew. “The goalie, three defenders, and our rusher—we put in a lot of practice with them to build their confidence, and they all had their moments today to step up and make a great play. They’re really driven, and they wanted this today, and they were poised and ready from the experiences they’ve had in the past.”
After combining for 14 shots in the first-half, the two teams combined for just five looks in the final 35 minutes of regulation. Messiah outshot the Jumbos 5-1 in the first overtime, with three of those attempts coming in a span of 1:16 midway through the session. The final overtime period, in contrast to the first, was owned by Tufts as they outshot the Falcons 4-1 and attempted three corners to the Falcons’ zero. But each anxious moment led only to more time off the clock, and soon the final horn sounded.
With the penalty shootout looming, Good had nothing but encouragement for her team.
“We always had the belief that we could do it, even after going scoreless,” she said. “I was proud that we weren’t overly frantic. We were poised, and we were confident, and we knew we could capitalize on an opportunity.
“It just didn’t happen until the shootout.”
Landes in goal was the difference in a dramatic shootout. As mentioned, she single-handedly stopped three attempts by the Jumbos, and forced another shot to go wide of the cage. The exclamation point came on the fifth shooter when, after Landes used her stick to knock away the attempt, she raced out to kick the ball out of the circle and seal the win.
Tufts loss ended their season at 19-3, and three of their players were named to the All-Tournament Team: Celia Lewis, Issy Del Priore, and Erin Sanders.
Messiah’s historic campaign ended with a 22-1 record, with a perfect 22-0 mark against Division III opponents; the Falcons’ only loss of the year came in a season-opening 1-0 overtime defeat to Division II Shippensburg, who also won the NCAA Division II National Championship this weekend. Four Falcons were named All-Tournament, including Pfautz and Wilkerson. Kristin Donohue and Gehman also were on the team, with Gehman taking home Most Valuable Player honors.
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