Following the historic GPAC tournament championship season in 2014, head coach Greg Henson’s program had to reinvent itself with the loss of eight seniors that next year. Such transition won’t be necessary in 2016 with nearly every key player set to return from the 2015 GPAC tournament runner-up squad.
This spring Henson went about assessing his vast armory. The Bulldogs showed off an experienced squad while playing three spring exhibition matches. The only key pieces missing from the 2015 edition were graduating seniors Madison Hawkins and Katrina Muther. Meanwhile, all five Bulldogs who earned some form of all-conference recognition this past fall competed during the 2016 spring season.
After going a combined 28-9-6 (school record for wins in a two-year period) with two GPAC title game appearances over the past two seasons, the women’s soccer program appears well-positioned to make another run at the top of the conference.
“We have a great group of seniors coming back this fall,” Henson said. “On paper this will be our strongest team from a technical standpoint and in terms of soccer knowledge. We’re in a good spot. It’s an exciting time for us. At the end of the day, things have to get pieced together properly but we’re looking forward to the fall.”
Henson may have a good problem on his hands – too many quality players for just 11 spots on the field. The fourth-year head coach made some adjustments this spring while playing a proverbial game of chess. On the other hand, many returnees will play similar roles. Observers of the program won’t see any surprises with the high-volume usage of players such as budding star Maria Deeter (mostly a midfielder in 2015), record-setting goalkeeper Chrissy Lind, outside back Ashley Martin, steady Esther Soenksen and dependable goal scorer Jessica Skerston, among others.
Some spring adjustments included the move of senior-to-be Jordan McCoy from forward to holding midfielder and Hannah Sain from midfield to center back to provide competition for the likes of Kristin Manley and Leah Shohat. Those changes may hold or they may be scrapped this fall. Spring is a time for tinkering and Henson has many options at his disposal.
“The biggest thing are the options that we have within the program,” Henson said. “We lost two key players to graduation. Obviously we have to replace them in the lineup and I think we have a lot of options right now. Our depth is really good and that’s exciting. We have to figure out where those pieces fit. We moved some people around in the spring and tried a couple different formations. I’m excited about what we have for next fall.”
The Bulldogs hosted their spring alumni game on April 23 and welcomed back a host of recent alums. After losing to the alums back in the fall, the current Concordia side got the upper hand 2-1 this time around. It was an encouraging sign up against a group of alums that included several players from the 2014 GPAC tournament championship team and assistant coaches Jordan Donohoue and Kim Elmore.
More than anything, Henson just wants to make alums continue to feel like part of the program.
Said Henson, “It was a competitive game. We had a lot of young alums back. It’s great to see them and their excitement for where our program is going. We want to keep them involved. Having the alumni game on an annual basis is something we want to continue.”
For the second spring in a row, the program also held a team bowling outing at Sparetime Lounge & Grill in Seward. Sain came away with the top score on the team. Joked Henson, “There would be no scholarships handed out for bowling with this squad. I don’t think 48 is a strong score and we had a couple of those.”
Another highlight of the spring was the free youth clinic the team hosted inside Bulldog Stadium. Nearly 100 local elementary students showed up on April 2 and ran through different stations set up on the turf.
Those types of activities should only enhance the chemistry that has developed among a now seasoned squad that will soon grow with this year’s class of newcomers. Based on the past two seasons and the indications from this spring, it’s not difficult to be optimistic about what will unfold this fall.
“We have nine freshmen coming in. We expect a number of them to be impact players right away,” Henson said. “We expect camp to be very competitive for spots. This will definitely be the deepest team we’ve had in the last four years.”
The season officially opens Aug. 26 as part of a weekend stay in Kansas City, Mo. The Bulldogs kick off 2016 against Avila University.