Heartbreaking Finish For No. 1 Falcons in Semifinal Shootout
Kansas City, MO - No. 1 Messiah was eliminated in the NCAA Final Four in the worst of ways on Friday as they were ousted by No. 4 Washington University in a shootout, 3-2. The teams battled to a 1-1 tie after 110 minutes before the shootout kept the Falcons from advancing to the National Final.
Messiah was up 2-1 in the shootout before Washington keeper Lizzy Crist made three-straight saves to help the Bears get even at 2-2 after five rounds. The biggest of those stops was undoubtedly the save on Messiah's fifth attempt by Kyele Bridel that would have sealed the decision for the Falcons. In the sixth round Hannah Rosenberg gave the Bears a 3-2 lead before Missy Biener's attempt sailed high.
The decision ended the Falcons' season at 22-0-3, the same record as 2014 and the sixth time in program history they've ended a season without a defeat.
Washington University advances to the National Final for the first time since 2009 when they lost to the Falcons, 1-0.
The shootout started with Messiah hitting their first two offerings off the feet of Nikki Elsaesser and Marisa Weaver. Wash U hit one of their first two attempts to help Messiah to a 2-1 lead after two rounds. Lizzy Crist, who played all 110 minutes in goal for the Bears but did not start the shootout, then moved into the goal for the final three Messiah shots. The move proved positive for the Bears as she made three-straight saves to support a rally from Wash U. Nevertheless, in the fifth round Olivia Lillegraven missed for Wash U to set up a potential clinching shot from Bridel, but Crist made the stop.
Moments later Biener's miss followed Rosenberg's hit, and Wash U completed the upset.
The shootout decision was especially hard for the Falcons considering they held a 1-0 lead deep into the second-half. They built that lead thanks to Holly Burgard's left-footed strike from 17 yards out in the 41st minute. Erin Sollenberger collected the assist on the play after she took a lofted ball to her feet in the middle of the box and dropped a pass back to Burgard for the shot.
The goal was Burgard's 13th of the season and fifth goal in the past five games.
The Falcons carried that lead through halftime and into the 74th minute when Katie Chandler put a hard strike on a loose ball in the box to tie the game. That play started with a cross from the left side that was deflected high into the air, with DJ Cole's attempt to clear it from the box getting sent right back in toward the six yard line. Megan Renken was there for Wash U, and she pushed the ball back to Chandler for the one-touch across the box and beyond the reach of keeper Audra Larson.
The tally was the first allowed by the Falcons since Oct. 27, and it was just their fourth goal allowed of the season.
Wash U's rally to tie the game was momentous considering Messiah had long stretches of a solid play, especially in the second-half. The Falcons even seemed poised to add to their lead early in the frame with two terrific opportunities in the span of four minutes: the first, a volleyed shot by Missy Biener off a corner that was headed away on the goal line by the Bears; the second, a free kick from Holly Burgard from 25 yards out in the center of the field that went inches over the crossbar.
The territory battle changed a bit toward Wash U with about 20 minutes to play, and their athletic and direct approach created a few hectic moments for the Messiah defense. Chandler's goal was an unfortunate consequence of one of those moments, and after a few more tense minutes the game went to overtime.
The best chance for either team in the overtime sessions was for Messiah in the 97th minute. Marisa DeMonte sent a terrific pass behind the Bears' defense, and Nikki Elsaesser ran on from the left side for a one-on-one opportunity against Crist. As Elsaesser carried into the box Crist raced out to close down the angle, and Elsaesser's shot was turned away on the slide by Crist to keep the game knotted at 1-1.
Messiah outshot the Bears 5-2 in the extra sessions, and they finished with a 20-16 edge in shots overall. Messiah also attempted five corners to the Bears' zero, and Larson and Crist each finished with six saves.
While the shootout decision will always be remembered as an unfortunate end to this season, the Messiah coaches, players, and fans will surely have many more terrific memories from another terrific campaign. The senior class of Elsaesser, Bridel, Burgard, Larson, DeMonte, Macaulay Soto, Trisha Tshudy, and Kate Shults finished their careers with four-year record of 88-4-8 for a winning percentage of .920. They won the 2012 National Championship, advanced to four NCAA Tournaments, and qualified for two Final Fours. They also won three MAC Commonwealth Championships in four seasons.