College Women: Ohio Wesleyan claims second straight Division III title

Ohio Wesleyan's defense made Erika Howland's goal midway through the first half stand up, and the Battling Bishops claimed their second successive NCAA Division III women's soccer championship Saturday with a 1-0 triumph over Messiah at Geneva, N.Y.

Howland, selected offensive MVP of the championships, finished off a loose ball following a corner kick as Ohio Wesleyan (23-0-1) extended its unbeaten streak to 45 games and became the first school to win consecutive D3 titles since UC San Diego lifted its third in a row in 1997.

''I think it's just unbelievable what the [team has] accomplished, going through an undefeated season,'' Bishops coach Bob Barnes said. ''Winning it twice in a row is just absolutely surreal.''

Goalkeeper Mindy Hammond was selected the tournament's defensive MVP after leading OWU to its 20th shutout of the season and fifth in five NCAA Tournament matches. She didn't have to make a save, but did a fine job cutting off crosses and through balls sent in by Messiah (21-1-2).

Howland, who scored a goal and added an assist in the Bishops' semifinal victory over final-four host William Smith, tallied in the 24th minute. Toni Frissora's corner kick to the near post found a crowd, but the ball squirted out to Liz Sheehan, who tapped it across the goalmouth toward the left post. Howland, making a far-post run, knocked it into an open net.

''It was just kind of bouncing around, they didn't clear it, and then we didn't get a shot off,'' Howland said. ''I have one run that I make and kind of clean up anything, and it just happened to come by that way.''

Ohio Wesleyan, which had a 42-game winning streak snapped in its quarterfinal against Wheaton, Ill. -- a 0-0 tie the Bishops captured on penalty kicks -- dictated play most of the way. It held a 13-3 advantage on shots and didn't allow Messiah a shot on target.

''I think the difference was Ohio Wesleyan had great speed up front and just very physically strong to the ball,'' said Falcons coach Scott Frey. ''I thought [the game] was very evenly matched, but as time went on, their strength and size started to wear us down a little bit.

''We're a bit banged up at this point, but everyone is this time of season -- everybody has bumps and bruises -- and I'm not sure we could go as deep as we would have liked to. Overall, they're a good team, and you can see why they are where they are.''

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