By William Bowman
The Daily Item
When Jeremy Payne says he expected the Messiah men's soccer team to be right where it is -- two wins from a Division III national title -- it might sound like boasting. But at Messiah it is expected.
The top-ranked Falcons (21-0-2) are heading to the NCAA Division III Final Four for the 10th time in last 12 seasons on the strength of a balanced offensive attack led by Payne, a Midd-West graduate.
Messiah takes on Loras College on Friday in one semifinal in San Antonio. The winner meets either Williams or Ohio Northern, the team that eliminated Susquehanna in the third round, in Saturday's championship game.
For the Falcons, the trip to the national semifinals has sort of become regular part of their schedule. Messiah has won eight national titles since 2000, including a pair of three-peats. And while it has not won since 2010, this is right where Payne thought the season would end.
"We have the same expectations every year," said the sophomore midfielder. "The standard is still the same and everyone on our team knows that. The team has definitely put in the work in order to get where we are."
Payne has played as big a role as anyone in the Falcons' success. He has started all 23 games this season, scoring a team-high 15 goals. He has added nine assists (second on the squad) and leads the way with 39 points, totals which earned him Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth Player of the Year.
It was a big jump forward after he started twice in 20 games last year, scoring six goals. It was just a matter of the hard working paying off.
"I gained a lot of confidence in the spring and that has definitely helped me as a sophomore," he said. "I am also surrounded by a lot of great players and we definitely make each other better."