It’s a tall task that often exacts just as much of a mental toll as it does physically. Few teams in sports have what it takes to run through an entire season without a single loss. The 2007 New England Patriots may have gone down as the best team in NFL history – except they couldn’t close the deal. They were upset in the Super Bowl by the New York Giants and settled for 18-1. As one Patriot said of the team’s pursuit of perfection, “I think in the long run, that wore our team down.”
Going undefeated, even for a full conference schedule, is a great challenge. Some Concordia squads of the past have managed to flirt with perfection. A trio of Bulldog football teams from long ago went unbeaten, but running the table has become increasingly difficult in the modern era. For this exercise, we took a look at Bulldog squads that made undefeated bids for varying lengths. We looked only at programs with team won-lost records.
The drive for perfection …
One of the more compelling and impressive runs at perfection was produced by the 2002-03 women’s basketball team. Head Coach Todd Voss’ group held the NAIA Division II No. 1 ranking for the final seven polls of that season. Behind the likes of first team All-GPAC performers in Sarah Harrison, Elizabeth Rhoden and Kari Saving, Concordia raced out to a 33-0 record before its unbeaten run was ended by Sioux Falls in the semifinals of the GPAC tournament. However, the Bulldogs did complete an unblemished 16-0 GPAC regular-season mark. They ultimately fell at the hands of rival Hastings in the national semifinals and finished the season at 36-2 overall. More recently, Drew Olson led the 2017-18 squad to a 24-0 start and the 2012-13 team to a 15-0 start. Each of Olson’s past four squads have had three or fewer losses – not bad.
The Concordia football teams of 1931 (7-0), 1944 (8-0) and 1945 (6-0) actually did turn in undefeated seasons under circumstances that were much different than what we see today. For instance, the ’31 team coached by Walter Hellwege faced a schedule featuring Nebraska Central, Dana (twice), Hebron Junior College (twice) and Luther Junior College (twice). Even so, the ’31 squad reserves a special place in our heart. That year star Bernard “Arkie” Arkebauer scored a still-intact school record 19 touchdowns and the Bulldogs outscored their opponents by a combined total of 206-19. The ’44 and ’45 teams were coached by Herb “Bulldog” Meyer and actually played six-man football as squad numbers were slashed with many men serving in World War II. Collectively, the ’44 and ’45 teams won 14-straight games, a school record. Many years later, the 2001 NAIA quarterfinalist group coached by Courtney Meyer started out 8-0 before finishing at 10-2 overall.
Despite having many accomplished teams in its history, the men’s basketball program has not made a serious run at an undefeated season (it’s hard!). But the 2004-05 national runner up team did start out 13-0 while riding stars such as Scott Beck, Jason Jisa and Jon Ziegler. In addition, the 1995-96 bunch that rose as high as No. 2 in the national poll jetted out to a 12-0 start. The ’95-96 squad was paced in scoring by Scott Ernstmeyer, Bret Walter and Darin Engelbart. Both of these teams were guided by head coach Grant Schmidt, whose tenure spanned 23 years.
It's true that three Bulldog baseball teams ran the table – in the wrong way – in the 1990s. Thankfully, the winless campaigns are in the distant past for a program that has risen dramatically under head coach Ryan Dupic. Let’s face it, an undefeated season in baseball is pretty much impossible. However, the run made by the 2019 baseball team to begin GPAC play should not be forgotten. The Bulldogs had a sterling pitching staff headed by Jason Munsch and the GPAC Player of the Year in Christian Meza. They powered the way to a 15-0 run to open up GPAC play. That type of win streak within the conference might not ever again be duplicated by the program. The ’19 squad wound up 23-5 in the GPAC and won the conference title.
Same thing with softball – no one goes undefeated. The best opening stretch we can find in recent history was a 9-0 start by the 2014 softball squad. The hot out-of-the-blocks beginning to head coach Todd LaVelle’s tenure led into an appearance in the opening round of the NAIA national tournament. The final record stood at 32-16, which marked an impressive 18-win improvement over the previous year. LaVelle counted heavily upon ace pitcher Amanda Beeson during this joy ride.
The 2017 men’s soccer team set a high bar by winning 16 games, shattering the previous program standard of 12 victories in a season. Although there was a tie included, head coach Jason Weides’ squad went unbeaten (10-0-1) in its first 11 games of that campaign. The first loss did not come until Oct. 7 at Northwestern and it occurred in double overtime. Concordia then went on to win its next four games and eventually appeared in the GPAC tournament championship game. All three losses in ’17 came by a one-goal margin. Though it fell short of reaching the national tournament, this was likely the best team in the history of the program.
It was a great year for soccer at Concordia in 2017. The 2017 women’s soccer squad put together a 9-0-1 GPAC record while winning the regular-season title. The one tie was a 0-0 draw at Northwestern and was the only thing that kept head coach Greg Henson’s Bulldogs from a completely pure conference record. Incredibly, Concordia allowed one single goal during the entirety of GPAC play and goalkeeper Lindsey Carley was named the GPAC Defensive Player of the Year.
This team really deserves greater attention. The 1990 men’s tennis team was perfect. Head coach Grant Schmidt’s squad went 11-0 overall and 7-0 within the Nebraska Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Its closest call was a 5-4 win over Nebraska Wesleyan. Ben Rodewald, Tim Marshall and Tim Jank each won 13 singles matches as the stars of the show. The Bulldogs then won the NIAC tournament and placed second at the district tournament behind only Kearney.
The rugged nature of GPAC volleyball really doesn’t lend itself to perfection. Interestingly, each of head coach Ben Boldt’s first two teams (2018 and 2019) began their seasons at 12-0. The ’19 team went on to reach the national round of 16. However, the school record for best unbeaten start is owned by the 2005 volleyball team that jumped out to an 18-0 mark. The strength of schedule apparently wasn’t particularly highly rated. Rachel Miller’s ’05 group received votes nationally but never did crack the NAIA top 25 poll. Also worth noting is the 9-1 league mark turned in by the 2000 volleyball team that shared the GPAC regular-season title.
The most significant events each season for the wrestling program are the GPAC and NAIA national tournaments, but the sport also features a number of dual meets throughout a campaign. No Concordia team has ever been spotless from an overall dual perspective, but the wrestling squads of 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2019-20 all went unbeaten in GPAC duals. Over a three-year period (2014-15 through the 2016-17 seasons), the Bulldogs went 21-0 against their GPAC rivals. It was a run initiated by former head coach Dana Vote and All-Americans such as Ken Burkhardt Jr. and Ceron Francisco.