SEWARD, Neb. – An entire senior class has filtered through unaware of what’s like to miss the GPAC tournament championship game. This year’s conference tournament run has hardly been a breeze, but the Concordia University women’s soccer team is headed back to the GPAC final for the fourth year in a row. A pair of set piece goals lifted the top-seeded and 21st nationally ranked Bulldogs to a 2-1 win over fifth-seeded Northwestern in Tuesday (Nov. 7) evening’s postseason semifinal round.
Fifth-year head coach Greg Henson is hoping to guide the program to its third GPAC tournament title in four years. Outright champions of the conference regular season, Concordia moved to 15-2-3 overall this season and is set to host the GPAC championship tilt for the second year in a row.
“We’ve had two very tough opponents. We haven’t had a very easy trip back to the final,” Henson said. “Northwestern and Morningside are both quality opponents that gave us everything we could handle. We’re back in the championship game, which was one of our goals. That lies in wait for us on Friday against a familiar foe in Hastings.”
For all the recent success that the Bulldogs have enjoyed, something about a feisty, defensive-minded Red Raider program has made matchups similar to pulling teeth. Amidst Concordia’s 9-0-1 unbeaten run through the regular season, the only team it failed to beat was Northwestern, which pushed the Bulldogs to a 0-0 double overtime draw on Oct. 7. Not since the 2008 season had Concordia figured out how to claim a win over the Red Raiders.
It was time. Said junior captain Maria Deeter, “I think we were all excited that we got a rematch against them because we didn’t get the win before. They’re someone that has just had our number. It was nice to go out and prove to ourselves and everyone else that the monkey’s off our back and we can play and beat anyone in this conference.”
Both goals were facilitated by senior Jeannelle Condame, who has a long established reputation for putting opponents in danger in set-piece situations. Condame delivered a corner into the box that found Deeter for a well-placed header, resulting in the game’s first goal in the 45th minute. The Bulldogs would need one more. It came at the 54-minute mark when Condame lofted a free kick in a perfect spot for freshman Victoria Cera to head the ball into the back of the net from about 12 yards out.
Not a single goal was scored during the run of play, a testament to the defensive prowess of both sides.
“It was just two very defensively strong teams that played tonight,” Henson said. “I thought we created a number of chances that we were unable to capitalize on. They made life difficult for us. The same on the other end. I thought our team did a nice job of closing it out. Postseason comes down to set pieces and things of that nature.”
Concordia had to overcome one of its mistakes when it got whistled for a foul in the box in the final 30 seconds of the first half. Northwestern’s Sarah Beaton took advantage by drilling the ensuing penalty kick, evening the game up, 1-1, going to the half. But the Bulldogs, 6-0 when playing at home in the GPAC tournament during Henson’s tenure, never flinched.
“We know what it’s like and it kind of helps with the nerves,” Deeter said. “We can tell the younger ones what to expect. No matter what, each game is different. Each opponent is different. We just have to show up ready to play.”
Concordia outshot the Red Raiders, 19-8, and held a narrow 7-6 edge in shots on goal. Both goalkeepers – Lindsey Carley and Naomi Schimmel – made five saves. Deeter was particularly active, recording six shots, including four on goal.
Friday’s championship game inside Bulldog Stadium is set to get underway at 7 p.m. CT. Opposing Hastings (15-2-3) got past No. 25 Midland in a penalty kick shootout following 110 minutes of scoreless action on Tuesday. The Bulldogs topped the Broncos, 1-0, in Seward on Oct. 25.