FOR THE MOMENT, let’s view sports through the prism of the scientific method and examine the following statement: The Messiah College soccer program is successful.
Which multiple-choice option most accurately describes that statement:
C. Accepted Fact
If your knowledge of Messiah College soccer is minimal or nil, you have no choice but to choose A — such is the scientific method. However, if you’re conversant with Messiah soccer and/or the Division III soccer landscape, you know the indisputable answer is C.
Indeed, Messiah is a small-college soccer powerhouse. To say the program is successful is clearly far more fact than theory — it’s akin to saying New Jersey is on the East Coast, or water is wet, or the grass is green on Messiah’s Shoemaker Field.
Here is the evidence, by the numbers, for the success of the Messiah women’s soccer program:
• 12 Final Fours
• 5 national championships
• 9 national championship games overall
• 17 straight NCAA tournaments
• 6 undefeated seasons
• Conference regular-season record, past 17 seasons: 113-0-3
• Record under coach Scott Frey: 362-20-20
Coach Frey has been at the helm for those 17 seasons, from 2000 to 2016. To my knowledge, his winning percentage at Messiah is the best in college soccer history among coaches with 10-plus years of experience — across NCAA Divisions I, II and III.
Those five national championships are tied (with UC San Diego) for the most in NCAA D-III women’s soccer history; the first championship game was played in 1986.
And here is the evidence, by the numbers, for the success of the Messiah men’s soccer program:
• 12 Final Fours
• 10 national championships
• 10 national championship games overall
• 19 NCAA tournaments in past 20 years
Those 10 national championships are the most in men’s college soccer history — across NCAA Divisions I, II and III — and the first D-III championship game was played in 1974.
Which program has the most national championships in college soccer history, across all divisions? The D-I North Carolina women, with 21.
By the way, you’ve likely noticed the 12-year delay between the first D-III men’s title game and the first women’s title game. Apparently, Title IX didn’t get an invite to that NCAA dance for a dozen years.
Note: The above info is based on statistics from the NCAA and Messiah websites — and since my daughter Kayla just completed her Messiah career, I naturally have more interest in the women’s program … so consider the additional women’s stats a minor coup for Title IX.
Moreover, the Messiah men’s and women’s soccer programs share a singular distinction: The two teams have won national championships in the same year. No other college or university soccer program in the country can claim such synchronized titles — in NCAA Divisions I, II or III.
Accomplishing that unprecedented feat once, however, wasn’t enough for Messiah soccer. Twice wasn’t enough, either. Or thrice.
When you blaze a trail to the mountaintop and the view is magnificent, why not make the trek again … and again?
The Messiah men’s and women’s soccer programs have won national championships in the same year four times — in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2012.
Widening the scope to all college sports reveals that only two other schools join Messiah in the Men’s-Women’s Same-Sport/Same-Year National Championship Club. The closest competition: Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball. Both programs captured Division I national titles in 2004 and 2014.
The other club member: In 1984 the University of Central Missouri, known then as Central Missouri State, won the men’s and women’s Division II basketball titles.
To review — and pay attention closely in case there’s a test — here’s the tally for dual national titles:
Messiah College, 4 — all other NCAA schools, 3
Note: If I’ve missed another college that has dual titles, please let me know — based on my knowledge and research, these three schools are the only members of this exceedingly exclusive club.
Some of the terms employed in this post — singular, distinction, exclusive — dovetail with one of my earlier posts:
Who wants to be holy? Reflections on sports and holiness
The gist of that post is this premise: Root words indicate that to be holy means to be set apart and distinct, and we can glean lessons about holiness from the world of sports.
That concept applies exquisitely to Messiah soccer and the statistics associated with the men’s and women’s programs. Their success sets them apart — makes them, in the root-word sense, holy.
While Messiah’s soccer numbers are staggering, both programs quantify big-picture success in ways that can be measured only outside the lines. Naturally, as a Christian college, Messiah’s goals for holiness go beyond scoring goals and winning games.
Yet some might question: Why would anyone want to be holy?
This view may perceive holiness as boring or needlessly rule-based. Some critics perceive a holier-than-thou attitude in the church and cite that as a reason to dismiss the Christian faith.
But Jesus of Nazareth had a distaste for that type of holiness, too.
Remember the root words mentioned above: Holiness means being set apart and distinct. Another root word: wholeness. Yes, to be holy is to be whole.
This begs a different question: Why would anyone not want to be holy?
In other words, who wouldn’t want to realize the distinction of a record-setting athletic program (or fill in the blank with your enterprise of choice)? And who wouldn’t want to experience the wholeness symbolized by a well-trained athlete on a field of play?
So … here’s a further question: How can we acquire the holiness we desire?
Perhaps there are as many answers to that query as there are philosophies, religions and worldviews.
Messiah women’s soccer (or MWS) has a tradition of closing the season with a celebration banquet. Each senior speaks and articulates the program’s core values — for one, investing in relationships — and notes the astonishing impact those friendships have on the team’s success. They also speak of the One they believe is the source of all true friendship, and all true holiness: Jesus of Nazareth.
One of my daughter’s teammates says: “I know my life wouldn’t be what it is now without the caring hearts of my best friends who taught me, guided me, listened to me, shared with me, and above all showed me what the unconditional grace and love of Christ looks like.”
She continues, “MWS is so not about soccer. Sure, it brings us together, but our God is at the root of it all.”
My daughter’s comments about MWS coincide with those sentiments (also quoted in my previous post, but worth repeating here):
“I saw friendships that were marked by a willingness to care for the other in radical, sacrificial ways. Most importantly, what I found was the foundation from which all these actions stemmed — the desire to love God and love others. Although soccer is what brought our team together, that is not the foundation of our program. Our goal is to point back to God…”
These teammates and friends attest that the Creator of the universe is the foundation for the excellence that infuses Messiah College soccer — they see God’s reality not as a hypothesis or theory, but as an established fact.
Of course, not every college, Christian or secular, enjoys the success of Messiah’s soccer programs. It’s safe to say that believing in God doesn’t guarantee on-field success, or any other kind of success as defined by society.
Yet when an individual or a team struggles — as the Messiah women did early this past season before making a run to the national title game — these players and coaches also see God as the source of the perseverance needed to continue pursuing excellence as He defines it … and to not give up.
Do you long for wholeness and excellence — for holiness? Where do you believe that longing comes from?
And what is your hypothesis for how such holiness can be attained?
© Bruce William Deckert 2017