2014 women’s soccer preview

Head Coach: Greg Henson (9-9-2, one year)
2013 Record: 9-9-2 overall; 5-5 GPAC (7th)
Returning Starters: 9
Key Returners: Megan Brunssen (D), Madison Hawkins (MF), Chrissy Lind (GK), Jordan McCoy (MF), Katrina Muther (MF), Rachel Mussell (D), Marcie Sindt (MF), Ashlie Sklenicka (F), Melissa Stine (F)
Key Losses: Jordan Donohoue (MF), Emily Fleming (D), Louisa Mehl (MF)
2013 GPAC All-Conference: Jordan Donohoue (first team), Ashlie Sklenicka (second team), Emily Fleming (honorable mention), Rachel Mussell (honorable mention), Melissa Stine (honorable mention)

With 10 players returning who started at least half the team’s games in 2013, head coach Greg Henson’s second Concordia women’s soccer squad will feature plenty of familiar faces. The abundance of senior leadership in the form of Katrina Muther, Rachel Mussell, Marcie Sindt and Melissa Stine will help ease the losses of four-year stalwarts Jordan Donohoue and Emily Fleming.

Henson is now fully aware of the talents and limitations of his roster and what to expect in an always competitive GPAC.

“We have a good, strong returning class coming back,” Henson said. “From our senior class to juniors and sophomores – there are a lot of players who played vital minutes for us last year. Knowing them and what they’re capable of – strengths, weaknesses and all those things and also just knowing the conference (will help).”

There’s also momentum, coming off the program’s second ever appearance in the GPAC semifinals, and an atmosphere in which it’s clear that everyone has bought in. Sindt, who has made her way back from an ACL tear that sidelined her for much of 2013, worked tirelessly over the summer along with many of her teammates.

Sindt, a midfielder from Scottsbluff, Neb., and a host of fellow Bulldogs have worked out on a regular basis while sticking around in Seward.

“It’s been an unusual summer because it’s been my first summer in Seward – and a lot of my teammates it’s been their first too,” Sindt said. “We played a lot of soccer. We played four times a week or more. It’s a lot of us on the women’s team and a few on the men’s team. We got a lot of touches on the ball. It’s been fun. I’ve been proud of my teammates for their dedication and commitment.”

Those are far from the only positive traits on the rise. There’s a new level of comfort now that Henson has been at the helm for more than a calendar year. Last season the former Lutheran High School (St. Charles, Mo.) head coach dove into the new gig with the season opener already on the horizon.

Sindt and others were impressed with how seamlessly the transition flowed despite the time constraints.

“He did a really good job at making it smooth for us,” Sindt said. “Now we’re getting into more of his style of play. It’s a testament to him already the fact that we’ve stayed here this summer and maybe there’s a little more commitment to the program than there was. We’re definitely heading in the right direction as a program.”

In terms of last season’s GPAC all-conference teams, forward Ashlie Sklenicka (second team), Mussell (honorable mention) and Stine (honorable mention) represent the headlining returners. Mussell racked up nine goals to lead the team for the second-straight year while Sklenicka (seven goals) came up with a breakthrough season and Stine (three goals, one assist) provided another attacking option from the forward position.

Henson tinkered with his formula during the spring scrimmage season by putting Mussell on the backline to help compensate for the loss of Fleming. No matter where she plays, Mussell is one of the squad’s more athletic performers. Henson simply revaluates each of his teams and says that his squads won’t necessarily carry over a similar style from year-to-year. That means significant position changes can sometimes be part of the equation.

“We might have to make some adjustments. We did in the spring with what we had available to us,” Henson said. “We changed some key positions for some key players. We’ll have to figure how this team’s going to be successful based on the strengths and weaknesses of this roster. That includes the freshmen coming in.”

Last year’s team ended up with a plus-six goal differential and proved to be the stingiest defensive Bulldogs in program history. Freshmen such as goalkeeper Chrissy Lind and defender Megan Brunnsen helped solidify a unit that allowed 27 goals – the fewest in a single season in the 19-year history of Concordia women’s soccer.

Lind, who persevered after being a passenger in tragic car accident last summer, won a starting job about a month into 2013. She flashed big time in the GPAC quarterfinals in which she earned her third shutout and saved a pair of penalty kicks that helped carry the Bulldogs to the semifinals.

“She came in in a tough spot,” Henson said. “Hats off to her and her family for the way that they handled that situation. With the injury she sustained she wasn’t able to train with us during preseason.

“Once she (came back) she took off. She’s a player that plays that sometimes plays at a faster pace than she needs to, but she’s full go when she gets on the field. Once she was on the field she was able to do the things necessary to win the job.”

While Lind and company hope to concede even fewer goals in 2014, the biggest question may center upon who will find the back of the net on the attacking end. Last season 15 different players combined on the team output of 33 goals. This season may see similar goal-scoring by committee results.

“Every coach is always scratching their head trying to find that true goal scorer,” Henson said. “Ashlie scored some very timely goals for us last year. So did Melissa Stine, and we expect Jordan McCoy going into her sophomore year to have a good season. We also have some freshmen that have the ability to put the ball in the back of the net.”

Better fortune in the injury department would also provide a significant boost. Last season Kayla Asche (graduated), Sindt and Jaimi Stelk all suffered ACL tears and Muther was sidelined late in the campaign. The likes of Muther and Sindt rallied around each other in their rehabs and will be counted upon heavily in 2014.

There will also be room for impact from a select number of new faces – some with familiar last names such as midfielder Esther Soenksen (younger sister of current men’s soccer player, Gideon) and Jeanelle Condame (younger of teammate, Annalisa). In addition, Henson welcomes in a former player of his from Lutheran High School, prolific goal scorer Jessica Skerston.

While pegged for fifth in the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll, Sindt and other veterans believe the team can get back to the conference semifinals and possibly reach even greater heights.

“We want to win the GPAC,” Sindt said. “That’s the goal. Maybe we’re not going to be the most skilled team coming up against some, but that’s going to happen. Will we be outworked? No. We’re definitely going to work harder than every opponent. We’re coming for the GPAC championship.”

The Bulldogs open the season on Friday (Aug. 29) when AIB visits Bulldog Stadium for a 5 p.m. kickoff.