Title game spot on the line Tuesday night

By Jake Knabel on Nov. 6, 2017 in Women's Soccer

SEWARD, Neb. – The GPAC regular-season champion Concordia University women’s soccer team stands one win away from reaching the conference tournament championship game for the fourth season in a row. Ranked 22nd nationally, the Bulldogs staved off eighth-seeded Morningside in last week’s quarterfinals to set up Tuesday’s tilt with Northwestern. Concordia and the visiting Red Raiders are set to kick off at 7 p.m. CT inside Bulldog Stadium.

Nothing comes easy this time of year. Fifth-year head coach Greg Henson’s squad needed a highlight reel strike from Lauren Martin in the 64th minute to help lift the Bulldogs to a 2-1 win over the Mustangs. The reigning GPAC tournament champs will get another strong push on Tuesday.

“The best team for 90 minutes is going to win the game on Tuesday,” Henson said following last week’s win. “All the history and everything that happened in the past is in the past. We’ll come out ready to go and we’ll expect a good game from Northwestern.”

Concordia seemed to be an impenetrable force until Morningside’s Paytn Harmon found the back of the net in the 21st minute of last week’s quarterfinal game. The Bulldogs had allowed just one goal during its 10-game undefeated GPAC regular-season run. Team anchors like midfielder Maria Deeter, center back Chelsea Bright and goalkeeper Lindsey Carley have helped make Concordia the 20th most difficult team in the nation to score upon (0.68 goals against average).

Air-tight defensive play has given the opposition little margin for error. No Bulldog has reached double figures in goals yet, but six different players have tallied five or more goals: Deeter (nine), Kaitlyn Radebaugh (nine), Sami Birmingham (eight), Esther Soenksen (seven), Lauren Martin (six) and Jeannelle Condame (five). Concordia has outscored its opponents by a combined total of 54-13.

Since the beginning of 2014, the Bulldogs have gone 9-2-1 in the GPAC tournament – with the one tie resulting in a shootout win at Hastings. Concordia is 5-0 in GPAC postseason home contests during Henson’s tenure.

“It’s really great winning the GPAC in the regular season, but it means nothing unless you win the GPAC tournament,” Lauren Martin said. “Our motivation is to go to nationals and to get further and do better than last year. We’re trying to compete with ourselves and our previous years.”

Northwestern reached the semifinals by getting past fourth-seeded Dordt, 1-0, on the road. The Red Raiders (11-5-3) also feature a stingy defensive unit. Northwestern played to a 0-0 double overtime draw with the Bulldogs back on Oct. 7. Goalkeeper Naomi Schimmel can cover for any mistakes that are made in the back line. She’s saved 142 shots (13th most in the nation).

Tuesday’s winner will move on to the championship game and play either second-seeded Hastings (15-2-2) or third-seeded Midland (14-2-2) on Friday (Nov. 10). Concordia won GPAC tournament titles in 2014 and 2016.

2017 GPAC Women’s Soccer Tournament

Thursday, Nov. 2 – Quarterfinals
No. 1 Concordia 2, No. 8 Morningside 1
No. 5 Northwestern 1, No. 4 Dordt 0
No. 3 Midland 2, No. 6 Briar Cliff 1 (OT)
No. 2 Hastings 10, No. 7 College of Saint Mary 0

Tuesday, Nov. 7 – Semifinals
No. 5 Northwestern (11-5-3) at No. 1 Concordia (14-2-3)
No. 3 Midland (14-2-2) at No. 2 Hastings (15-2-2)

Friday, Nov. 10 – Championship
Time TBA