The post-Maria Deeter era is here for the Concordia University women’s soccer program. Deeter will certainly go down as an all-time great, but life goes on for an outfit that has proven its success goes beyond any one individual. The question is now about what the 2019 team will look like and whether the Bulldogs can continue as one of the GPAC’s top dogs under head coach Greg Henson.
For any teams that compete in the fall, the spring training season is a time when questions begin to be answered, although it’s still extremely early. Because of how far this program has come in recent years and what it has come to expect, Henson knows he must keep an ultra-competitive group challenged during the spring.
“I’m pleased with how things went on the field,” Henson said of the spring season that ended with a bowling outing on April 24. “The biggest hurdle for us was just re-identifying ourselves, coming together and re-establishing the mentality that we want to have. We have to maintain that high standard even after the graduation of so many seniors, who made a great impact on the field and in the locker room.”
Henson says the challenging 2019 nonconference schedule has been discussed this spring. Concordia has to be ready immediately this August to take on a beefed up slate while also trying to replace Deeter and fellow all-conference seniors in Ashley and Lauren Martin. In terms of accolades, the most accomplished holdovers are juniors-to-be in goalkeeper Lindsey Carley and Tori Cera (capable at playing all over the field).
This is still a talented bunch, which gave Henson the confidence to put his team up against some worthy foes this spring. The opponents this spring have included a Concordia alumni team, Iowa Western Community College, NCAA Division II squads Missouri Western State University and Rockhurst University and nearby NCAA Division III Nebraska Wesleyan University.
“We talked about it the first meeting back (of the second semester),” Henson said of a 2019 schedule that includes four top 25 opponents. “I think we talked about it again the last meeting too. They know what’s in store and what’s coming up. They’re excited about the challenge. The first test we gave them was the challenging spring schedule that we had. This spring was a tougher schedule than we’ve faced in the past. We wanted to prepare ourselves for that.”
Cera and company hope to lay the groundwork for a return to the national tournament. If you will recall, the Bulldogs have come up agonizingly short of national berths the past two seasons. In consecutive GPAC postseason championship game appearances, Concordia has suffered a defeat in penalty kicks and one in double overtime. Those were heartbreakers, but there’s plenty to be proud of for a program that has advanced to the conference final five years running.
For many of those five seasons, Henson could rely on captains in Deeter and Taylor Roby, the Martins and the rest of the current seniors for consistent effort and production. The exciting aspect of this new dynamic is that it allows for new opportunities. Prepare to hear more about the likes of Madeline Haugen, Mikeila Martinez, Morgan Raska, Cheyenne Smith and Michaela Twito, among others.
“There are nine seniors that walked out of the program this year and that’s probably one of the biggest senior classes we’ve had since the 2014 team (GPAC tournament champion and national qualifier),” Henson said. “There’s a big hole. The first team meeting this semester you notice a lot smaller room than the last time we were together. You just move forward.
“Chelsea Bright is coming back as a captain from the fall. This spring we did something a little bit different where we established a leadership council, rather than just captains. We have five members of the council: Morgan Raska, Lindsey Carley, Jennika Chapman, Tori Cera and Chelsea Bright.”
A Las Vegas native, Cera produced the highlight reel goal of the 2018 season with a strike from 40 yards out in the 1-0 GPAC quarterfinal win over Morningside. Cera possesses a big leg – and a whole lot more. Henson would prefer to have her in the midfield, but he made a decision to mover her to center back this past season to fill a hole there. No matter where she plays, she will be dangerous on free and corner kicks.
“Tori does a great job for us, wherever we put her,” Henson said. “She’s played both in the attacking mid role and as a center back. This spring we moved her back into the midfield, which I think was a pleasant surprise for her. We would love to keep her there but we can play her pretty much anywhere on the field. Mostly we want her to take on that on-field leadership role that we need.”
If you’re looking for an early candidate for leading goal scorer in 2019 – well, that’s probably to be determined. Deeter and Lauren Martin combined last season for 24 goals and 22 assists. The leading returning goal scorer is Brynn Suddeth, who found the back of the net 12 times in 2018. Senior-to-be Becky Freeman contributed seven goals. At some point, Concordia hopes to get production from Kaitlyn Radebaugh, who is making her way back from injury. Radebaugh tallied nine goals in 2017.
Whether on the field – or even at the bowling alley – this group will compete. Henson says this spring did nothing but reaffirm the program’s desire to compete. By the way, this year’s bowling tournament championship team included Bright, Carley, Smith and Sydney Rogers. It should be noted that Kaylee Brown and Jordan McCoy continue to share the program record for lowest bowling round with matching 47’s.
“I think as the spring went on we got our competitiveness level to where it needed to be,” Henson said. “I think a strong testament to that is whenever we try to do the fun games, sometimes they get a little too heated. To me that’s good. It shows there’s a hunger and a desire to win. They’re competitive in everything they do. Even we go bowling, it’s competitive, bad bowling.”
The 2019 Concordia women’s soccer schedule can be viewed HERE.