SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University women’s soccer program has checked many boxes in recent years. It checked off one more on Wednesday evening in the most meaningful regular-season women’s soccer contest ever staged inside Bulldog Stadium. With an outright GPAC regular-season title on the line, the Bulldogs sent No. 20 Hastings packing with a 1-0 defeat.
Under fifth-year head coach Greg Henson, Concordia had already seized GPAC tournament titles in 2014 and 2016. Now the Bulldogs get to add a conference regular-season championship trophy to their growing list of accomplishments. Concordia will enter the postseason with records of 13-2-3 overall and 9-0-1 in GPAC competition.
“It feels great. All the credit to the players,” Henson said. “They’ve had a tremendous season. As soon as we got into the conference season, our level has just picked up. I feel like we’ve gotten better and better each game that has gone on. The players buy into that one-game-at-a-time mentality. It’s cliché, but it’s so true at this time of year. One of our goals for the program was to win the regular-season championship. I couldn’t be any more proud of the players on this roster.”
The game’s first and only goal finally came right at the 66-minute mark. It started with a battle in the box initiated by a pass from junior Maria Deeter. Senior Esther Soenksen flew to the ball and rushed a shot that was quickly deflected. After getting knocked to the ground, freshman Kaitlyn Radebaugh sprung to her feet, won the ensuing race and floated the ball from right to left past Hastings keeper Lexi Harris.
No moment has proven too big for the freshman from Roca, Neb. Radebaugh has pulled even for the team goal scoring lead with nine on the year. Henson has called upon her all season to provide an offensive spark off the bench. She also notched the game winner last week at Midland.
“It was very surreal. I’m just amazed,” Radebaugh said. “I couldn’t really believe it at first. I saw the ball hit the back of the net. I’m just so happy.”
The last 24 minutes were about holding off the Broncos (13-2-2, 7-1-1 GPAC). Concordia fended away Hastings despite being at an 11-0 disadvantage in corner kicks. The Broncos very nearly grabbed a lead during a sequence of corner kicks just before the 60-minute mark. The quick reflexes of NAIA National Defensive Player of the Week Lindsey Carley kept the Broncos off the board. Carley made consecutive saves on shots right in front of the goal.
In holding Hastings scoreless, the Bulldogs completed an incredible run of defensive play in conference action. Concordia turned in nine clean sheets and surrendered just one goal all season against GPAC opponents. Carley made six saves on Wednesday to preserve the shutout. On many of Hastings’ corner kicks, Deeter dismissed the threats by heading the ball up field.
Before the conference tournament gets underway, it’s fair to take a moment to marvel at how the Bulldogs have continually rose up in their most significant of opportunities. Last week they positioned themselves for a chance to celebrate on Wednesday by posting 1-0 road wins over No. 18 Midland and Dordt. During Henson’s tenure, Concordia seems to be at its best when the stakes are highest.
“For our program, Hastings and Midland are big rivals,” Henson said. “Morningside is always a big rival as well. It doesn’t take much for our players to get up for those games. They’re excited. They circle those dates on the calendar. The GPAC is getting better and better every season in women’s soccer. There are very few days off.
“To win a championship, whether it’s regular season or tournament, you’re not always going to play beautiful soccer. Sometimes you have to grind out the win. I thought our players did that today.”
Hastings has reigned as the Goliath during the GPAC era. The Broncos had won three regular-season championships in a row. They had not suffered a defeat in a GPAC regular-season game since the Bulldogs upset them, 2-1, on Oct. 29, 2014.
Now it’s on to postseason play. As the No. 1 seed, Concordia will welcome the No. 8 seed to Bulldog Stadium for a GPAC quarterfinal contest at 7 p.m. CT on Thursday, Nov. 2. The Bulldogs have earned the right to host as long as they remain alive in the tournament. The other dates for the GPAC postseason are Nov. 7 for the semifinals and Nov. 10 for the championship game.