Women's Semifinal 1 Preview
|Other Previews: Women's Semifinal 2||Men's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2|
NCAA Division III Women's Soccer - National Semifinal 1
Friday, December 6 — 11:00 am ET
No. 1 Messiah (21-1-2)
Carnegie Mellon (14-5-2)
How they reached the Final Four
2019 Statistical Overview
Messiah Season Review
Ranked No. 1 for most of the season, Messiah comes into Final Four weekend with a record of 21-1-2. As champion and automatic qualifier of the MAC Commonwealth, the Falcons began their NCAA Tournament quest by hosting the first weekend. They opened the tournament by beating New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Champion Lesley Lynx 5-0 Saturday morning, then hammering Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Champion and unbeaten Randolph-Macon 4-0 on Sunday. The Falcons opened sectional play against Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference member Trinity (Texas), taking care of the Tigers 2-0 on Saturday for the opening game. They then ran straight into the Williams Ephs on Sunday, and the two-time defending National Champions did not want to “go gentle into that good night”, as poet Dylan Thomas once mused. The two teams awoke early Sunday morning to find snow on the ground and the match moved off the grass of Shoemaker Field to the artificial turf, a scenario eerily similar to the 2017 quarterfinal at Williams when the two teams met for a 4-1 Messiah win. The wind greatly influenced Sunday’s contest, with the Ephs jumping out to a 2-0 halftime lead with the wind at their backs, and the Falcons answering with two of their own in the second half with the wind pushing them. The Ephs held a slight advantage in the overtime periods, and the Falcons needed two superb saves to force penalty kicks. Anyone who is familiar with Messiah history knows that the Falcons have gone out of the tournament each of the last five years on penalty kicks, so most fans were watching with dread in their hearts. As the Falcons jumped out to a 3-1 lead in kicks, however, a small ember of hope started to burn. As the next two Falcons failed to convert, despair again filled their hearts, until the last Eph kick slammed against the crossbar and fell back into the arms of the shooter. After a brief pause of disbelief, the players, coaches, and alumni ran onto the field, finally able to celebrate the monkey off their back and a return to the Final Four after a two-year absence.
The Falcons once again have one of the most balanced units in the country, ranking in the top ten in most offensive and defensive categories, the only one of the remaining four teams to do so. The Falcon offense is ranked in the top ten nationally in total goals, total points, total assists, shots per game, shots on goal per game, points per game, and scoring offense. The Falcon defense has recorded 18 shutouts on the season, which is good for 6th in the nation. The Falcon defense allows only 6.8 shots per game, with only 2.79 of those being on goal. The defense has allowed eight goals on the year for a 0.327 goals-against average, good for 5th in the nation. This unit has faced more attacks than years past, with their keepers needing to make 59 saves, over 25 more than Messiah keepers had to make last season. Unlike some Messiah teams in the past, this defense has been under duress at times this season and emerged virtually unscathed. They are right at home with teams pressing forward and trying to score, then weathering the storm and regaining control of the game.
The Falcons began the year at No. 2 in our preseason poll and fell to No. 7 in our first poll of the season after an early season loss to then-No. 3 William Smith. The Falcons made their first appearance at No. 1 in our Week 4 poll, falling out for one week before reclaiming the No. 1 rank in Week 8. The Falcons held the No. 1 ranking for the rest of the season and a total of seven of the ten weeks that D3Soccer.com had a Top 25 poll. As stated above, the Falcons lone blemish was a 2-0 loss at then-No. 3 William Smith but had victories against 10 of the 12 teams they faced that made the NCAA Tournament this season, with draws against the other two. Counting last weekend’s games, the Falcons have played 13 contests against teams that made this year’s NCAA Tournament with a 10-1-2 record in those games. The Falcons have victories this season over then-No.14 Stevens, No. 9 Johns Hopkins, No. 12 Dickinson, No. 15 Arcadia, No. 22 Misericordia, No. 14 Randolph-Macon, No. 21 Trinity ((Texas), and Carnegie Mellon, who was receiving votes in our Top 25 poll.
Carnegie Mellon Season Review
Carnegie Mellon advances into the National Semifinal at 14-5-2 and unranked this entire season, although they did receive votes in the Top 25 for four weeks. Due to their strong schedule (one of the toughest nationally) and their .650 SoS, the Tartans were picked as an at-large qualifier from the University Athletic Association (UAA), despite finishing fourth in the conference standings. With no postseason tournament in the UAA, regular season champion Washington U. garnered the automatic qualifier while four other conference teams were awarded at-large berths. The Tartans were selected to host the first weekend and cruised past Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAS) Champion Cairn 7-0 in the first round. They then faced off against Swarthmore, an at-large team out of the Centennial Conference, the other power conference in the tournament this year. Both the UAA and CC put five teams into the tournament, but only the UAA put a team into the Final Four (the fifth consecutive year of placing at least one team into the semifinals). The Tartans moved on with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Garnet, where more fouls were called than shots taken. That earned them the right to travel to Wheaton, IL, for a sectional matchup against Ohio Northern, a team they had faced earlier in the season and lost 0-1. Carnegie Mellon came out swinging early, overwhelming the Polar Bears in the first half and jumping out to a 2-0 halftime lead. The Tartans outshot the Polar Bears 8-1 in the opening stanza, and by the time Ohio Northern had settled into the pace of the game, it was too late. The Tartans finished with a 3-0 win and moved into the quarterfinal match against St. Thomas, who had upset favorite and host Wheaton (Ill.) the night prior, advancing in penalty kicks. The Tartans and Tommies battled back and forth, with Carnegie Mellon getting the better of play in the first half and St. Thomas getting the better of it in the second half. The teams battled evenly in the overtime periods before the Tartans prevailed in a seven-round penalty kick marathon, failing to convert on only a single attempt.
With one of the highest SoS numbers this season, it’s clear that Carnegie Mellon has had to play well on both sides of the ball. The Tartans are outside of the top 20 stats leaders nationally in most categories, yet they’ve earned the right to be playing this weekend based on hard work against some of the best teams in the country. Carnegie Mellon has averaged 2.43 Goals per Game this season, with a Goals-Against Average of 0.76. So, this team doesn’t dominate, but their ability to put up shots and score goals was on display these past two weekends. The Tartans have scored the second-most goals in the tournament at 11 and have yet to concede a goal during tournament play. Defensively, the Tartans have faced high-scoring teams in the UAA and have proven their ability to keep opponents off the board. They have 11 shutouts on the season and seem to relish the pressure of extra time, as they are 2-0-2 in overtime matches. Powerful opponents build strength and this Tartan team should not be underestimated. This Tartan squad is also the first women’s team of any sort at Carnegie Mellon to advance to an NCAA National Semifinal.
As noted previously, Carnegie Mellon was unranked all season. They did receive votes at times throughout the season, but a few losses here and there kept them off the board. The Tartans have played more than a few Top 25 teams, and several of those ranked near the very top: They’ve faced Messiah, Washington U., Chicago, Emory, NYU, Case Western Reserve, Ohio Northern, Rochester, Swarthmore, and St. Thomas, all teams that have at one point or another been in our Top 25 during the season. The Tartans are 5-5-1 against Tournament teams this season. Carnegie Mellon has also shown the ability to solve an opponent who stymied them during the regular season, as they beat an Ohio Northern squad 3-0 last weekend who had beaten the Tartans 1-0 in Pittsburgh at the start of the season. That may prove beneficial, as these two teams met earlier in the season...
Seniors' 4-year Record (through Nov. 24)
Players to Watch
Messiah: #25 F Brooke Firestone (Sr.) – 19g, 5a, 8gwg (2x MAC-C OffPOY, 3x 1st team, All-Region 1st) | #9 F Ellie Lengacher (Sr.) – 10g, 15a, 2gwg (MAC-C 1st team, All-Region 2nd) | #22 M Sunny Gelnovatch (Sr.) – 6g, 8a, 1gwg(MAC-C 4x 1st team, All-Region 1st) | #11 M Kayla Herr (So.) – 4g, 1a(MAC-C 1st team,, All-Region 2nd) | #17 D Emily D'Amico (Sr.) – 2a (MAC-C 1st team) | #23 D Barb Foster (Sr.) – 1g, 1gwg (MAC-C 3x 1st team)
Carnegie Mellon: #20 F Alex Adams (Fr.) – 13g, 6a, 7gwg (UAA 1st team, All-Region 1st) | #44 D Rachel Legg (Fr.) – 1g (UAA 2nd team, All-Region 3rd) | #10 F Helena Spencer (Fr.) – 6g, 1a, 1gwg (UAA Hon. Men.) | #16 M Taylor Cammarata (Jr.) – 4g, 2a, 1gwg (UAA Hon. Men.)
While these two teams have never met in the tournament, they have met several times during the regular season, all within the last three years. Messiah has won all three of those games, outscoring the Tartans 9-2 over that span. The two met earlier this season at Messiah and the Falcons came away with a 3-0 victory, but the game was closer than the score indicates, especially in the first half. The Tartans had two early breakaways and could have easily had two goals had it not been for two excellent saves by the Falcon keeper. To be fair, the Falcons did score two goals and could have had three others in the opening stanza, but the Tartan keeper made several acrobatic saves herself to keep it a 2-0 Messiah halftime lead. The Falcons dominated possession in the second half, holding Carnegie Mellon to a single shot while putting up nine of their own and scoring another goal. This may have been an indication of a tired Tartan team that had taken a five-hour bus ride to play or a testament to Messiah’s depth and ability to wear down opponents.
The two teams also shared two common opponents this season: Grove City and Denison. Both Messiah and Carnegie Mellon defeated the Wolverines by a final of 3-0, but the Denison game fared differently for the teams, despite putting up similar numbers. Messiah scored four goals on their first eight shots against the Big Red, opening up a 4-0 first-half lead, numbers that held for the final score. The Falcons outshot Denison 20-2 (11-0 SOG) and took six corners to the Big Red’s one. The Tartans, conversely, outshot the Big Red 23-5 (14-3 SOG) and led 7-4 in corners, but fell behind 2-0 and had to make a comeback to settle for a 2-2 double overtime draw.
On paper, this game shouldn’t be close - you have the No. 1 team in the nation ranked in the top ten in most offensive and defensive categories against an unranked team with no statistical rankings inside the top 40. But, don’t be so quick to dismiss the Tartans. They have been tempered against strong competition this season and know what it’s like to face off against the best teams in the country. Anything can happen in the NCAA Championship Tournament, and soccer games aren’t played on paper.
The experts say that one of the hardest things to do in sports is beat a team twice in a season. Messiah will attempt this feat Friday morning in Greensboro, facing off against a team that they defeated 3-0 in September this year. It won’t be an easy task, because this Tartan team has grown considerably since then and have already exacted revenge on one opponent who beat them this year: Ohio Northern. The Polar Bears defeated the Tartans 1-0 back on September 1st this year and then were dominated by Carnegie Mellon 3-0 last weekend. What better way to scout a team than on the pitch? The Tartans will know exactly what the Falcons will bring at them; they’ll be no surprises there. For their part, Messiah won’t pull any punches. They will try once again to force their will and style of play on their opponent - possessing the ball and attacking with pinpoint passing. If the Tartans do come out and press the Falcons, this Messiah team can handle adversity. This Messiah squad has had moments this season where they weren’t able to control the flow of the game - specifically, matches against Johns Hopkins, Stevens, William Smith, and Williams had long stretches of play where the Falcons were on their heels, playing defender to their opponent’s aggressor. Other than the William Smith game, where they were missing All-American leading scorer Brooke Firestone, the Falcons came through just fine, defending until the tide turned and they could return to their possession-oriented style of play and regain the role of attacker.
The name of the game on Friday will be taking advantage of opportunities. Games at this stage of the tournament are won by defense, and each of these teams possess a fine one. Both hold their opponents to few chances during a match. The team that wins will be the one that takes advantage of those limited opportunities. Breakaways must be converted and not squandered, which both teams did when they met in September.
Messiah will try to play their game and possess the ball out of the gate, wearing down the Tartans as they did in September. They know that many teams will play evenly with them for 15-30 minutes, but then they begin to take control with their depth and conditioning. And this team is deep - their seven first-year players (6 freshman and 1 sophomore transfer) have all scored goals and have contributed 27 of the 87 Falcon goals on the season. Sixteen Falcons have scored this season, with three having double-digit goal totals and six players having double-digit point totals. The Falcons will try to keep the Tartans off the board for the first 20-30 minutes and then take control of the game from there. If they happen to score an early goal, all the better. But this is a patient team that will continue to press the attack and will not panic, as they proved against Williams in the quarterfinal.
Carnegie Mellon will come out attacking with a high press and try to get the Falcons in an early hole. They nearly pulled that off in September but failed to take advantage of the breakaway opportunities that they created. They must take advantage on Friday in order to have success against the Falcons. It must go well for the Tartans early in the game for them to be successful - they cannot fall behind early. The Carnegie Mellon attack is not quite as potent as Messiah’s, but extremely capable, as thirteen Tartans have scored this season, with four of them reaching double digits in points. The Tartans have shown in this tournament that they are capable of possessing the ball and sustaining an attack against a quality opponent. They will play physical defense and try to keep the Falcons off their game. If they can grab an early goal and keep the Falcons frustrated in their attack, or if they can force a scoreless draw as they did against St. Thomas, they may become the first Carnegie Mellon women’s team to go to an NCAA National Final.
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