In many ways, the 2021 season represented one of the best in the history of the Concordia University Softball program. Following an upset of then fourth-ranked Oklahoma City University in March, the Bulldogs were knocking on the door of the NAIA top 25 poll. The last hurrah for two of the program’s all-time greats, third baseman Hhana Haro and shortstop Tori Homolka, saw them conclude their careers in the opening round of the NAIA Softball National Championship.
A break here or there and Concordia may have wound up in the NAIA World Series instead of losing two close games in the opening round to squads that finished highly ranked in the NAIA postseason poll (No. 9 Science & Arts and No. 11 Grand View).
While coming to grips with the conclusion of her career, Homolka remarked, “This tournament just proves how good we are and who we can play with. We played two great teams and I think we showed so much. I have so much respect for this program. It was an honor to be here and it was great to be in this environment with the girls.”
The Bulldogs wrapped up the ’21 campaign with an overall record of 32-13 (tied for the fifth most wins in a single season in program history). Homolka and company placed in a tie for third in the GPAC regular season before making a run to the GPAC Championship Series (won by Midland, 2-0). Of course the 10-7 victory over Oklahoma City on March 9 represented one of the highpoints of the spring. Homolka came through with a key three-run homer in the fourth inning and Zoe Flores threw an incredible 5.2 scoreless innings against one of the nation’s top offensive teams.
Six Concordia standouts collected All-GPAC accolades, including first teamers in Haro, Caitlyn McGarvie and Camry Moore. Meanwhile, Homolka, Jenessa Jarvis and Kylee Nixon picked up honorable mention accolades. One of the nation’s best two-way players, Moore rose to star status in 2021 and was the ringleader behind a pair of GPAC tournament wins over longtime nemesis Morningside.
May 6 marked one of the more thrilling days in program history as Moore fired a two-hit shutout of then 13th-ranked Morningside in a momentous 4-0 win that pushed the Bulldogs to the GPAC Championship Series. Said Moore afterwards, “Getting that final out and coming together as a team to celebrate is one of those feelings you never forget. To beat Morningside twice on their home field two days in a row is a huge moment for our program. Our seniors, and us juniors, had never beaten Morningside and it’s something we really wanted to change. I’m super proud of this team.”
Tweeted Homolka after the win, “We definitely came together as one! An amazing feeling!” Such comments made it clear how much it meant to finally slay the Mustangs (who wound up receiving an at-large national tournament bid). Admitted Homolka prior to the GPAC tournament, “We want to beat Morningside … they have a big target on their back.”
After dropping the GPAC Championship Series at Midland, Concordia regrouped for its trip south to Chickasha, Okla., for an opening round pod hosted by the University of Science & Arts. The Bulldogs came up on the wrong end of a 5-4 decision (nine innings) versus Grand View and a 5-3 score against Science & Arts. In what proved to be the season finale, Nixon blasted a three-run homer off NAIA Pitcher of the Year Emily Cerny and Bulldog freshman pitcher Jerzi Rowe fired six innings of one-run ball until running into trouble in the seventh.
The results weren’t what the team hoped for, but Concordia still managed to soak up the national tournament experience. Said Haro, “Being able to come out here and play competitive and do what I love – it means a lot to me. It was super rewarding to end my career this way. We worked four years to get this far.”
Few players in the history of the program have accomplished more than Haro, the 2018 GPAC Player of the Year and three-time first team all-conference performer. After a slow start in 2021, Haro got blazing hot and hit .479 (34-for-71) during conference play. Late in the season, the native of Garden Grove, Calif., became just the third player in program history to reach 200 hits for a career. She batted an eye-popping .446 in 138 career collegiate games.
In her senior day reflection, Haro wrote, “My time here was very fun and went by so quick. I’m happy I was able to play this sport I love while getting such a good education. The university has brought so many good memories and has made me such a resilient person moving onto the next chapter of my life.” Added Homolka, “From almost burning down the dorms freshman year trying to make ramen noodles, to learning to live with four other girls, I am so glad to say that I will graduate from Concordia University.”
The infield was stacked with talent with Haro at third, Homolka at short, Nixon at second and Moore often working in the circle. Senior Allysia Thayer enjoyed another excellent season behind the plate. Her work played a role in an impressive spring for Moore, who went 20-6 with a 1.78 ERA and 116 strikeouts (just 14 walks) in 157 innings. At the plate, the Crete High School alum batted a team best .386 with 12 doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 41 RBIs.
As part of the journey, the Bulldogs raced out to a 17-2 record that marked the best 19-game start in program history. Included in that stretch was a doubleheader sweep of a Bethany College squad that advanced to the final four of the NAIA World Series. On March 24, Concordia stood narrowly outside of the top 25 poll (No. 27). It received votes nationally in six of the seven NAIA coaches’ polls released in 2021.
McGarvie, Moore and Nixon will be the headlining returners in 2022 for the Bulldogs. The senior class of graduates was a strong one that featured starters in Haro, Homolka, Jarvis, Regan Karel and Thayer. The next head coach will look to build upon the program’s seventh 30-plus win season during the GPAC era (2000-present). The Bulldogs have made three national tournament appearances (2014, 2015, 2021).