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Spring update: defending GPAC tourney champs 'start fresh'

By Jake Knabel on May. 10, 2017 in Women's Soccer

The last time most fans saw the Concordia University women’s soccer program step on the field at Bulldog Stadium, members of the team were posing with a massive GPAC championship banner in front of a spirited crowd. The 2016 group of trophy winners showcased an offensive flair that head coach Greg Henson hopes carries into a new season in 2017.

‘That was last season’ is a refrain often uttered by Henson. The dynamics change every fall and the second semester after the real season ends becomes crucial for laying a foundation for that next season. The spring gave Henson a better handle on what needs to be done throughout the summer and in fall camp to continue an unprecedented run of success for Bulldog women’s soccer.

“Some players definitely stepped up and showcased some strengths that maybe we didn’t realize were strengths,” Henson said. “And it also exposed some of the weaknesses that we need to take a closer look at. The spring scrimmages are very important and give the players something to look forward to. It gives players more opportunities that may not have played a lot in the fall. I think it was a successful three games for us. It’s about figuring out what our identity is.”

Concordia kicked it into high gear after spring break for roughly a five-week period of on-field training. The spring stretch run included four days per week of practice sessions and one day of speed and agility work on the field with strength and conditioning coach Todd Berner.

“I think the players were a lot more fresh this spring than years past,” Henson said. “We tried to cut back a little bit in some of the things that we did. I think that really showed in some of our spring matches. It just made for a team that was more excited about training every day.”

A returning captain and first team all-conference performer, Seward native Maria Deeter stands out as one of the unquestioned leaders. Somehow, she’s already halfway through her collegiate career. She delayed offseason surgery until making it through spring workouts.

Deeter does it all. She can score goals. She can defend. She can control play in the middle of the field. She’s been terrific for two years, but her best soccer could be ahead of her.

“I think the biggest jump is from sophomore to junior year,” Henson said. “Maria will be a junior this fall. We put some pressure on her making her a captain when she was still a freshman last spring. She’s done a great job of leading this team and this program. I think we share a vision for where we want the program to go.”

One of the team’s other headliners is sophomore-to-be Sami Birmingham, who burst onto the scene with 20 goals and 10 assists as a rookie. But you know, last season was last season. Henson expects Birmingham to continue to focus on improving her game and know that opponents will be well aware of her presence on the field.

“The more success you have, the harder it becomes just because everyone knows who you are,” Henson said. “When we step on the field in the fall, they will know who No. 24 is just because of the stats that she put up last year as a freshman. You just have to come back and understand that last season is last season. We have to build upon it and move forward.”

The potential for lots of goal scoring remains, but what about goal prevention? For each of his first four years at the helm of the program, Henson has had Chrissy Lind to rely upon in goal. The record-breaking keeper has graduated after recording 26 shutouts over four years as a starter. Those four years included 52 wins, two GPAC tournament titles and two trips to the national tournament.

Keepers Lindsey Carley and Jessica Knedler waited in the wings last season as freshmen. They are the frontrunners to take over for Lind. Their development this spring and leading up to the season opener will have a lot to say about how far the 2017 team will go.

“Those are big shoes to fill,” Henson said. “It’s probably been about game six since Chrissy’s freshman year that someone else has gotten the start. She’s been a consistent force for us. This spring we’ve had three goalkeepers vying for the position. The good thing is that all three of them get along very well. We need them pushing each other every single day. We have three qualified keepers that we’re looking at.”

The spring included an alumni game that gave the current group a tough battle. It was an unfamiliar situation seeing the likes of Lind, Kristin Manley and Jordan McCoy on the opposing side. Lind, Manley and McCoy were all mainstays in the lineup. McCoy departs with a school record for most career games played.

They helped make for a stacked alumni team with many recent all-conference honorees.

“It was great to see all the alums that have come back from the last three or four years,” Henson said. “The seniors have been with us every step of the way. I think we have the talent, the skill and the character on the roster and with our recruiting class to continue to do what we’ve done. We want to be a championship caliber program.”

Not previously mentioned returning all-conference honorees include Jeannelle Condame, Ashley Martin and Esther Soenksen. A Lincoln Lutheran alum, Soenksen has been another key component in the program’s consistency. Soenksen has tallied 24 goals in her first three years as a Bulldog.

The first official game of the 2017 campaign is slated for Aug. 26 when Avila University (Mo.) visits Bulldog Stadium for a 1 p.m. CT kickoff.