GPAC title rematch awaits defending champion Bulldogs

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 9, 2016 in Men's Soccer

SEWARD, Neb. – The wave of GPAC tournament success continues for Concordia University men’s soccer, which has defied outside expectations for the second-straight postseason. A No. 6 seed last year, the Bulldogs did the unthinkable by running the table and claiming victory on the road against each of the conference’s top three seeds.

If ninth-year head coach Jason Weides’ squad is to repeat the feat, it will do so against the very same teams, in the exact same order: Northwestern, Midland and Hastings. The rematch of the 2015 championship game will again take place at Lloyd Wilson Field in Hastings. Friday’s kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CT.

It’s a new time for Weides’ program. Concordia’s appearance in the conference title game isn’t quite the shocker it was last November.

“It’s exciting to have the expectations to be there and competing for that year-in and year-out,” Weides said. “That’s what we’re trying to do now from here on forward. It’s built on the backs of every other Bulldog that’s put on a jersey – guys who have bled for us, sweat for us and worked hard to improve our program. Even the guys who never got to this point – we’re building on the back of former Bulldogs.”

The upper echelon of the conference appeared nearly unbeatable entering the 2016 GPAC tournament. Top-seeded Hastings has come back with a vengeance since falling to Concordia in last year’s conference tournament conference game. Ranked second nationally, the undefeated Broncos (19-0) are a lock for the national tournament after missing out in 2015. Midland had also been dominant within the conference, falling only once during GPAC regular-season play.

It seemed Hastings and Midland were on a collision course to meet in the final – only Concordia got in the way, again.

“We’ve got to be confident,” said junior defender Toby Down. “Midland is a good team. So is Hastings. We did it last year with the same road. We can go do it again. The second time around is always harder, but we’re up for the challenge.”

Perhaps in a somewhat quiet manner, Concordia has lurked in the shadows of the Hastings and Midland programs. This year the Bulldogs broke through with a top-three regular-season finish and hosted a GPAC tournament game for the first time since 2001. Weides felt like his program was drawing closer to moments like this. In the 2014 conference tourney, Concordia suffered a 1-0 overtime defeat at No. 11 Hastings. A year later the Bulldogs busted down a massive mental barrier by taking out the Broncos in a stunning conference final.

But Hastings has come back stronger under first-year head coach Aaron Champenoy. After their 1-0 win over Concordia on Sept. 28, the Broncos won each of their next nine games by margins of at least two goals. Star Daniel Whitehall leads the nation with 29 goals for a team that averages 3.89 per game. Hastings also rarely allows goals having recorded 13 shutouts this season. Most teams struggle just to keep up.

But Concordia appears to have risen above the level of ‘most teams.’ In the postseason it finds a way, even if that means Lewis Rathbone going off for more goals than he had all regular season or goalkeeper Mark Horsburgh making super human saves. Concordia players may have said in the past that they wanted to win a conference championship. Now they actually believe it.

“They were confident,” Weides said after the semifinal win. “I think the guys prepared really well. They were really focused on our goal of getting back to the conference championship.”

WATCH LIVE: Friday’s game will be shown live via Hastings College and its Stretch Internet account. The broadcast can be accessed HERE at game time.

Concordia: 11-6-2, 6-3 GPAC (3rd)
Head coach: Jason Weides (81-74-17, 9th season)
Goals scored/game: 2.16 (8th in GPAC)
Goals allowed/game: 1.05 (3rd in GPAC)
Top goal scorer: Micah Lehenbauer (8 goals)
Goalkeeper: Mark Horsburgh (1.086 GAA, .794 save percentage, 77 saves, 4 shutouts)
Road to final: Defeated 6th-seeded Northwestern, 2-1, in the quarterfinals and 2nd-seeded Midland, 3-2, in the semifinals. 

Hastings: 19-0, 9-0 GPAC (1st)
Head coach: Aaron Champenoy (19-0, 1st season; went 82-61-11 in 9 seasons at University of St. Thomas)
Goals scored/game: 3.89 (1st in GPAC)
Goals allowed/game: 0.63 (1st in GPAC)
Top goal scorer: Daniel Whitehall (29 goals)
Goalkeeper: Joe White (.690 GAA, .727 save percentage, 32 saves, 9 shuouts)
Road to final: Defeated 8th-seeded Dordt, 4-0, in the quarterfinals and 4th-seeded Morningside, 4-2, in the semifinals.