Posts Tagged ‘Messiah College Falcons soccer’

FAST Blast: Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer

01/25/2017

Related posts
Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program
Musing about relative truth, exclusive claims, Messiah soccer

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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:

A. Hypothesis
B. Theory
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.

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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.

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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

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FAST Blast: Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program

01/02/2017

’Tis the season.

Not for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. That holiday season is history — until next December, anyway.

In the American sports world, ’tis the season for … well, you know: basketball, hockey and football — though for football, ’tis the postseason.

But wait — ’tis the season for the other football. In the United States it’s called soccer, of course, but whichever term you prefer, it is undeniably the world’s most popular sport. Leagues across Europe and the world are in the thick of their campaigns, from the Premier League (England) to Ligue 1 (France) to the Bundesliga (Germany) to Serie A (Italy) to La Liga (Spain).

Meanwhile, American soccer is in its offseason after championships were decided in December both professionally (Major League Soccer) and collegiately (three NCAA divisions plus other associations).

My focus is on one of those college divisions, NCAA D-III women’s soccer, and I’ll spotlight one Division III team: the Messiah College Falcons.

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Early last month, the Messiah women reached the national championship game — which ended in a pulse-pounding 1-1 tie after two overtimes — and then fell 5-4 in penalty kicks to Washington-St. Louis.

The Falcons went on a steamrolling run through the regular season and the NCAA tournament. After starting the season with a 2-2 record, the Messiah women won 20 straight games — including the tournament — and advanced to the Final Four by going on the road to defeat defending champ Williams.

FYI: My daughter Kayla just completed her senior season at Messiah, in case you were wondering whether I chose this team at random.

She was a central defender as a junior and senior, and a wingback/fullback as a freshman and sophomore. I would list her career accomplishments, but then I suspect I’d be diagnosed with Proud-Obnoxious-Father Syndrome.

Besides, my focus is on the program and the ideals it aims for — and often fulfills, according to those who know the program best. And who knows it best? The players, naturally.

At the end-of-season team banquets I’ve attended, a consistent theme has been voiced by graduating seniors (each speaks at the banquet): Coaches care about the players as people first and soccer players second.

These seniors refer to the program’s core values — such as putting team before individual, investing in relationships, pursuing excellence — and thank coaches for living lives that are worth emulating on and off the field.

Seniors speak of friendships forged with teammates — through sharing day-to-day life and the crucible of offseason training and the pure joy of zany team events such as Halloween costume competitions. Speaking of training: 20 straight 200-yard sprints, anyone?

Here’s a sample of what my daughter said in her speech:

“I think about the teammates who went far beyond the surface level and saw who I really am — the way girls intentionally pursue relationships with one another. I see a group of people who love to be together, plain and simple. I couldn’t be more grateful for my four years in this program. It was a dream of mine for a while [to play at Messiah], but the reality of being a Messiah women’s soccer player surpasses anything I could have imagined.”

By the way, the emphasis on cultivating healthy and strong relationships hasn’t come at the expense of success in the win-loss department — far from it. In fact, you can make a case that such an emphasis has been a key reason for the program’s amazing achievements.

Sure, too much water will hurt a garden — just as out-of-kilter relationships can damage a team — but the right amount of free-flowing water is, safe to say, essential for a garden’s well-being.

How successful is Messiah women’s soccer in the record book?

Led by coach Scott Frey, the program has won five national championships, the first in 2005 and the next four coming in a five-year span from 2008 to 2012. To my knowledge, his winning percentage at Messiah (in the .930 range) is the best in college soccer history across all divisions among coaches with 10-plus years of experience.

My daughter’s class finished with a four-year record of 86-6-7 — with plenty of help, of course, from other classes. If you’re keeping score at home, here are the season-by-season marks:

2016 — 22-3
2015 — 22-0-3
2014 — 22-0-3
2013 — 20-3-1

The impressive distinction of such numbers goes hand in hand with players’ testimonies about their growth outside the lines, thanks to the impact of coaches and teammates. It’s no wonder that one of my daughter’s classmates said in her speech that Messiah is “the greatest place in the country to play soccer” — a sentiment expressed by many student-athletes who have appreciated the program’s fusion of deep friendships and extraordinary soccer.

This remarkable blend dovetails with the college’s athletic mission:

The Department of Athletics at Messiah College seeks to develop Christian character while pursuing athletic excellence. In doing so, the Department fulfills Messiah College’s mission to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character, and Christian faith.

In addition to the team banquet, my daughter was among the players who spoke at the NCAA D-III Final Four banquet in December. While parents weren’t invited — the event was for the eight Final Four teams — I read her speech.

(If the phrase eight Final Four teams is jarring to your mathematical sensibilities, the solution is easier than you might imagine: The banquet was for the men’s and women’s Final Four. Now, back to your regularly scheduled post…)

Note how this excerpt of her speech is a real-life, real-time example of Messiah’s athletic department mission:

“I noticed a coaching staff who demanded our absolute best on the field, but who also invested in our character development. At practice, leading meant being the first person to get water, pick up cones and move goals…”

“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…”

Coach Frey has summed up Messiah women’s soccer this way: “We’re playing a sport we love, with teammates we love, for a God we love.”

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For those who believe in God — soccer fans or not — perhaps you’re ready to say “amen.”

For those who don’t believe in God — skeptics or otherwise — perhaps you’re prone to question or dismiss such talk.

I grew up in the church, and I’m aiming to persevere in the church, yet I have wrestled with faith questions for most of my life. Of course, the writers of Scripture express plenty of questions along with their affirmations of faith.

So while this blog post has arrived at a natural stopping place — and is lengthy enough already — I invite you to stay tuned for a follow-up post on some life-and-faith motifs that are interwoven with Messiah soccer.

P.S. To receive an email notice when there’s a new post, you can enter your email address on the top right of this blog. I average about one post per month; the max I’ll post is one per week.

© Bruce William Deckert 2017

Follow-up posts
Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer
Musing about relative truth, exclusive claims and Messiah College soccer