Storybook season comes up short

In a season filled with perfection, the women’s soccer team fell just one win short of a championship. A somersaulting freshman ended the College’s quest for a national championship and undefeated season on Saturday.

The No. 2 ranked College lost to No. 1 Messiah College 1-0 in the NCAA Division III Championship at MacPherson Stadium at Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C. The title is first in program history for Messiah.

Messiah senior midfielder Billie Jo Atkins headed-in the game winner in the 70th minute off a memorable throw-in from freshman Rachel Horning. Horning did a front hand-spring/somersault that allowed her to throw the ball 35-yards to the goalie box.

“I’ve been doing that throw since I was nine years old,” Horning said. “If I just started to try the somersault now, I’d probably break my neck.”

“We’ve scored on that play about four times this year,” Falcons’ head coach Scott Frey said. “It’s a dangerous and exciting play because she has the ability to put it in front of the goal.”

In fact, Messiah had scored on a similar play in their semifinal match against the University of Chicago.

“It wasn’t a surprise. We had talked about that in our scouting report,” Lions’ head coach Joe Russo said. “It was nothing we didn’t know.”

The loss was the Lions first of 2005 bringing their final record to 22-1. Messiah finished with a 22-0-1 record. The two teams played a scoreless first half before Atkins netted the game-winner midway through the second.

The College’s best scoring chance came on sophomore midfielder Dana DiBruno’s shot that hit the crossbar. Messiah held a 10-8 advantage in shots. This marks the third time in program history the College earned runner-up honors.

“My hats are off to Messiah,” Russo said. “They were well coached, and well prepared.”

The goal was only the fourth allowed by Lions’ senior goalie Alissa Kacar this season. Kacar made two saves in the loss and Falcons’ junior goalie Cassie Gross made five saves. Kacar had 15 solo shutouts on the year and 32 in her brilliant career.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the team, when I look back at the entire season,” Kacar said. “This team is so young and has so much potential to do some great things in the future.”

“I am very proud of my team, especially these two next to me (seniors Kacar and forward Brittny Boyd),” Russo said. “I could not be prouder of these kids.”

For Boyd, Kacar and fellow senior forward Megan Balaisius, the loss marks the end of their careers at the College.

“They’ve (seniors) been the backbone of the program, because we have such a young team. They’re the only ones that have been throughout it before,” Russo said. “I feel bad for them because they don’t get another shot at it.”

“When the game was over, I was overwhelmed with emotion.” Kacar said. “It was hard to hold back tears.”

DiBruno, sophomore defender Courtney Krol and freshman forward Jamie Kunkel earned all-tournament honors.

Messiah freshman defender Kacie Klynstra was named Most Outstanding Player for the tournament. Klynstra led a Falcon defense that did not allow a goal in the finals or semifinals and marked Boyd, the College’s three time All-American forward, in the title game.

Russo said the team has already started preparing for next season. “This one’s over and you get ready for the next one,” Russo said.

“I felt bad for our kids because they had played their hearts out and they were really determined and they didn’t get what they deserved,” Russo said. “There’s nothing to hang our heads about.”

The College defeated No. 13 Tufts University 3-0 in the national semifinals on Friday to reach the finals. DiBruno led the Lions with two goals, including the game-winner, and five total points. Kunkel added a goal and an assist.

“Our MO was to get a goal early on and luckily we got on the board early in the game,” DiBruno said. In fact, the Lions were able to net two early goals.

DiBruno scored her first goal at 11:26 on a rebound off her own shot. Kunkel then added a score from a DiBruno pass less than two minutes later. DiBruno scored her second goal in the 73rd minute with Kunkel assisting.

With her performance against Tufts, DiBruno broke the College’s single-season point record of 46. DiBruno ended the season with 48 points on 20 goals and eight assists.