One Goal Enough as Falcons Earn Commonwealth Title
Grantham, PA – Messiah College senior Alicia Frey netted the game's only goal in the 48th minute as the Falcons earned a hard-fought win over Stevenson University for their seventh-straight Commonwealth Championship. The win marks the second-straight season the Falcons have defeated the Mustangs in the conference final.
"I told our girls after the game 'you have to smile on that one,'" Messiah head coach Scott Frey said. "They had to fight and they had to earn it. We battled to beat a good team."
The Falcons battled, as Frey said, for much of the game against a Stevenson defense that was intent on not giving up many looks to the potent Messiah offense. The Mustangs played with 11 players in the Falcons' attacking third for the entire first-half, and didn't begin to expand their field until Frey's goal forced a change in strategy.
Until Frey's score, Stevenson's plan was working well. They limited the Falcons to just six shots in the first-half, five of which did not go on frame.
"The question coming into tonight was if they would play us the same way (as they did in the regular-season)," Frey said, reflecting back to the Falcons' 4-0 win over the Mustangs three weeks ago. "To their credit, they decided to change their tactics. They did a great job with it.
Stevenson's approach forced a change from the Falcons midway through the first-half, as Messiah's realigned their backline to push their midfield further up. Corinne Wulf, too, pushed up to join Nikki Elsaesser up top, in hopes of spacing out the Mustangs' defenders.
The alignment change almost paid off immediately, as Messiah found a great opportunity in the 23rd off a serve into the box from Holly Burgard. Elsaesser trapped the ball on the six and turned to the left for a quick shot that was blocked in front of the goal.
Despite the great opportunity, Messiah was quickly challenged a minute later by one of Stevenson's few counters in the first-half. Playing from a restart just over midfield, Shannon McGuire sent a long kick into the Falcons' box where it bounced and went towards the goal. Alexis Siejack ran under the ball in an attempt to head it past keeper Audra Larson, but it went a few inches over her leap and landed in Larson's hands.
It would be the only close call for Messiah before the break. On the other side, they found one more golden opportunity of their own in the 38th minute as, this time, Kyele Bridel sent a cross from the right corner to the six-yard box. A soft bounce came to the feet of Trisha Tshudy, but her poke appeared to be off-balance and went directly to the chest of Alicia Greene.
At the half, Messiah adjusted once more and moved Frey even further up the field in hopes of pressuring the Stevenson backline. The move paid dividends immediately, as Frey pounded through the game-winner at the 47:04 mark. Playing off a corner, possession moved from the box backwards to Macaulay Soto above the 18-yard line. She played back to Ali Rogers in the midfield who sent a long chip back into the box where Frey ran onto the ball for a one-touch strike past Greene.
"We talked about getting some balls into the box to create something—anything really," Frey said. "We got fortunate to get a restart and find a play to score. It was a great effort."
Now behind 1-0, Stevenson was forced to open their field to counter. Less than 10 minutes after Frey's goal they created a great chance off their own restart from the midfield. They played quickly forward and found Siejack on the left side on a run over the corner of the 18. Ali Rogers tackled perfectly just as she launched her shot, deflecting the ball wide of Larson and net.
The teams battled back-and-forth for the rest of the game, playing at a frantic pace compared to the first-half.
"They were working hard to get the equalizer, and pressing forward aggressively," Frey said. "It's not that we were uncomfortable, but our backs hadn't been pressed all game, and then of a sudden decisions were getting faster and pressure was in the midfield where it wasn't before.
"We needed to change our approach back to what we normally do and adjust to the game."
The Falcons did move back to their usual alignment and limited Stevenson's opportunities the rest of the way. Messiah also almost found a second goal in the 67th minute, but Erin Sollenberger's follow on a saved shot by Elseasser was also saved on the line by Greene.
Nevertheless, Messiah's one goal stood up as they guaranteed themselves a trip to the NCAA Championships Tournament for the 14th-straight season.
Hannah Weyland took home Most Outstanding Player honors for Messiah in recognition for her stellar defensive work in the conference semifinal and final. In total, the Falcons' defense held Lebanon Valley and Stevenson to just seven total shots, only one of which went on goal.
The Falcons will learn of their NCAA seeding on Monday, Nov. 11 when the NCAA airs their Selection Show at 1:30 p.m. Fans are encouraged GoMessiah.com for the link to the show.