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Championship season characterized by remarkably stingy defense

By Jake Knabel on Nov. 22, 2017 in Women's Soccer

The locomotive that is the Concordia University women’s soccer program keeps chugging along, churning out seasons that once would have seemed like fairy tales. Down the stretch, the Bulldogs could not be beaten no matter the circumstances: road underdog against a ranked team, ‘trap game’ or a home matchup with everything on the line.

Yet another on-field celebration unfolded on Oct. 25 when Concordia used a 67th minute goal by freshman Kaitlyn Radebaugh to topple then 20th-ranked Hastings, clinching the outright GPAC regular-season title. One of the season’s only downers occurred when the Bulldogs fell in a penalty kick shootout in the conference championship game on Nov. 10. It was an otherwise stellar season.

“At the end of every season it takes a little while to really grasp what you’ve accomplished,” said GPAC Coach of the Year Greg Henson. “Winning the conference regular-season championship was something that we hadn’t been able to accomplish before. It was huge for us. We went 9-0-1 and only gave up one goal during the regular season – just a remarkable feat for our program. Penalty kick shootouts are always a difficult way to end a season, but it doesn’t take anything away from what we accomplished this year.”

This year’s team persevered through an 0-2-1 three-game stretch that occurred in early September. After a 2-1 overtime loss at Graceland University on Sept. 9, Concordia did not lose again while following the lead of junior captain Maria Deeter. GPAC opponents found the Bulldogs to be an impenetrable force. The lone goal Concordia allowed during its entire conference regular-season run came on Oct. 4 in a 5-1 win at Briar Cliff.

What looked like a huge question mark entering the season developed into a big strength. After record-breaking goalkeeper Chrissy Lind graduated, no one could have predicted that on Nov. 13 the next goalkeeper in line would be named the GPAC Defensive Player of the Year. That’s exactly what happened. Working in sync with a sturdy backline, Carley ranked in the top 10 nationally in goals against average and the Bulldogs did not miss a beat.

“The biggest thing about Lindsey is her demeanor. She’s just a calming presence in goal,” Henson said. “She communicates very well and distributes the ball very well. She makes the players in front of her comfortable that she’s going to take care of her job in her role and help them do theirs. She denies a lot of shots against her without having to make a save and that’s a huge component of the goalkeeping position. There’s nothing that really ever gets to her.”

In the midfield, Deeter continues to be a rock for this program. Now a two-time first team all-conference selection, the Seward native paced Concordia in both goals (10) and assists (10) and was a finalist for the GPAC Offensive Player of the Year award. Henson called Deeter the MVP of the entire conference. Deeter could be placed in just about any position, but she’s settled into a role in the middle of the field where she can make an impact both offensively and defensively.

Concordia’s defensive work deserves more attention. Carley was often kept clean by a group of defenders headlined by freshman center back Chelsea Bright and senior center back Leah Shohat. They were flanked by teammates such as Jeannelle Condame, Ashley Martin and Taylor Roby. Bright was another candidate for GPAC Defensive Player of the year after making a quick transition to college, but there is enough credit to go around.

“It took a commitment as a team defensively and buying into the importance of it,” Henson said. “It starts with the goalkeeper and then your backline. Chelsea Bright really stepped into a leadership role in the back four. Right next to her is Leah Shohat, our senior captain. Some of our veteran leadership allowed these young players to step in and do what they’re good at. The back four did a great job in addition to the midfield and some of our forwards with defensive responsibilities. The team really bought into that.”

Henson has proven very successful in his tenure at melding the newcomers with the talent already on board. Not only did Bright win a center back spot, fellow freshmen Tori Cera and Michaela Twito were fixtures in the starting lineup. Off the bench, Radebaugh consistently provided a spark in relief of Sami Birmingham in the striker role. Radebaugh’s nine goals were one shy of Deeter for a team best.

The good news for Henson was that he had a senior class that didn’t seem to mind who got the credit. The five seniors, including Condame, Shohat and Esther Soenksen, collaborated on 60 wins since the start of the 2014 season, a program record for most victories in a four-year stretch. Soenksen recorded 31 career goals. It’s a group that will be missed.

“This one’s going to be tough,” Henson said. “They walk out of here with 60 wins. That’s going to be tough for any class going forward to overtake. What a great group they are – all five that have been with us for the last four years. This is the last group that came into a non-winning program. They really bought into the vision I was selling about where this program was going to go – and they came in and made it happen. I’m going to miss having them around the team and at practice.”

It may be hard to believe it, but Deeter will have just one go-round left of college soccer. While the senior class included several key pieces, the Bulldogs figure to be in position to win frequently again in 2018. She’s enjoyed the ride so far.

Says Deeter, “To see what we’ve accomplished as a team is pretty awesome. The fact that I’ve been able to be part of it – I can’t ask for anything else. There are still goals that we want to accomplish. There’s no doubt that I’ve done everything I can and I’ve worked as hard as I can. Work rate-wise, we’ve done about as much as I could have dreamed of us doing.”