SEWARD, Neb. – By way of the first GPAC tournament title in Concordia University men’s soccer history, the program sewed up its first-ever trip to the national tournament. On Monday the Bulldogs learned they will be headed to Oklahoma Wesleyan University on Saturday for the opening round of the 2015 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championships. A kickoff time has not yet been announced.
Concordia is one of 24 automatic qualifiers in the field of 32 teams. The Bulldogs will be the only GPAC representative at the national tournament.
“It’s exciting. It’s unchartered territory for us,” said eighth-year head coach Jason Weides. “I’m just really proud of the group and what they were able to achieve this season, especially given some of the obstacles and challenges that we were able to work through.”
Concordia will make its way onto the national stage with an overall record of 11-6-3. The Bulldogs ran through the GPAC tournament the hard way – by knocking out each of the league’s top three seeds, all on the road. The Bulldogs capped their improbable journey by upsetting No. 19 Hastings, 1-0, on Lloyd Wilson Field on Nov. 12. Concordia reached the championship by toppling third-seeded Northwestern, 1-0, in the quarterfinals and by getting past second-seeded Midland in a PK shootout in the semifinals.
After slaying Hastings in the championship, an emotional Mark Campbell exclaimed, “I just can’t believe it. This is what we’ve been striving for three or four years now. We’ve never beaten them. After last year and the heartbreak of losing in the last minute, this is what we deserve. We’ve deserved this. If you look around, the emotions and everybody – it’s just amazing. We’re going to nationals.”
Weides’ bunch arrived at the GPAC title game unsatisfied with simply getting there. Weides expects his team to take a similar approach into Saturday’s contest in Bartlesville, Okla. The Bulldogs understand they face another significant challenge against the nation’s second-ranked team. The potent Eagles (19-1) captured Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
But with an active six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2), Concordia rides high into the national championships. The Bulldogs want to carry over the same attitude that fueled their GPAC title.
“It’s really the same approach,” Weides said. “Because our guys approached it the correct way in conference play, I think we’re less likely to approach it the wrong way now. We have to make sure we prepare well this week. If we see a sense of contentment, we’ll make sure we shake it out of them. Though we’re really excited about getting there, we want to move on.”
Oklahoma Wesleyan suffered its only loss this season to John Brown University (Ark.), 1-0, on Sept. 22. Since then, fifth-year head coach Jamie Peterson’s squad has reeled off 11 victories in a row. The Eagles rank sixth nationally in goals per game (3.9).
They will have to contend with a Bulldog squad that did not concede a single goal during GPAC postseason play (290 minutes). Concordia shares three common opponents with Oklahoma Wesleyan. Both teams defeated Bethel College (Kan.) and Sterling College (Kan.). The Bulldogs went 1-1 against Hastings, while the Tigers defeated the Broncos, 3-0, on Sept. 19.
The winner of Saturday’s matchup will advance to the final site, where the remaining 16 teams will gather. Seacrest Soccer Complex in Delray Beach, Fla., will host national championships action Nov. 30, Dec. 1-2 and 4-5.