Head Coach: Greg Henson (first year)
2012 Record: 6-9-1 overall; 4-5-1 GPAC (8th)
Returning Starters: 8
Key Returners: Kayla Asche (D), Jordan Donohoue (MF), Emily Fleming (MF), Meredith Hein (MF), Rachel Mussell (F), Marcie Sindt (MF), Ashlie Sklenicka (MF), Melissa Stine (F)
Key Losses: Kyleah Bowder (D), Kelsie Elder (MF), Katie Janis (D)
2012 GPAC All-Conference: Rachel Mussell (first team), Emily Fleming (second team), Jordan Donohoue (honorable mention)
With only two seniors occupying the 2012 Concordia women’s soccer roster, many familiar faces return to the program in 2013. The most obvious change comes at the top, where longtime St. Louis-area coach Greg Henson replaces three-year head coach Lisa White.
Officially on the job since only mid-July, Henson is tasked with familiarizing himself with the roster he inherits while trying to get everyone on the same page at an accelerated rate. He is in the midst of a 12-day stretch between the date athletes reported to campus (Aug. 16) and the season-opening game (Aug. 28).
“We have a limited amount of time,” Henson said. “We want to get our fitness base as strong as possible during that time period. Also just an organizational piece – we want to get players familiar with the things we want to do, familiar with me, my coaching style and the things I’m going to bring to the table that might be a little bit different than years past.
“So we have a lot of work to do but I think we’ll be able to get it done in the time allotted.”
Henson brings confidence and tactical expertise along with a track record of winning. This past season he led the Lutheran High School girl’s team of St. Charles, Mo., to its first-ever Class 1 District 7 championship and first AAA Conference championship and was named Class 1 Central Region Coach of the Year.
Under his guidance, Lutheran High School punished opponents with its fan-friendly attacking style – something he plans to instill in his Bulldog squads.
“I think most of the time people that come out to watch a team that I’ve coached in the past or in the future are going to notice a hardworking group of individuals,” Henson said. “I want my players and teams to go out and work hard from the opening whistle to the final whistle.
“The high school team I just left set a record for the most goals scored in a season. I hope I can translate some of that success to Concordia.”
Much of the goal scoring load in 2012 fell upon the shoulders of junior Rachel Mussell, who enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign. The Buffalo, Minn., native’s 14 goals were exactly half of the team’s season total and ranked second in the GPAC. After tallying only two goals as a freshman, Mussell emerged in a big way, putting up a hat trick in last season’s home opener and never looking back.
Mussell rarely missed the mark on prime goal scoring opportunities, serving as a model of efficiency. Of course, she couldn’t do it alone. The presence of an elite goal scorer is also the sign of complimentary talent to set her up for goals.
“To have a player who can put the ball in the back of the net is huge,” Henson said. “For a team it can alleviate some pressure from the other players on the team. It also demonstrates that there’s a good bit of success and talent around her to put her in position to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Mussell headlines the group of returners that also includes a much larger senior class for Henson to lean upon for leadership. Among them are 2012 all-conference honorees in midfielder Emily Fleming (second team) and forward Jordan Donohoue (honorable mention).
Fleming, who thrived last season as she transitioned from center back to center midfielder during the 2012 campaign, is eager to get started under Henson. She understands that a new coach means that even experienced and accomplished players must reassert themselves to claim the key roles they have held down in the past.
Says Fleming, “I think that the knowledge of having a new coaching staff and knowing that we do have to prove ourselves again allows us to come into preseason highly motivated which I think will create a good competitive atmosphere that we can carry throughout the season.”
Henson expects a similarly competitive climate during preseason practice. It’s a climate in which the newcomers stand on almost equal footing with established veterans.
“I had one of the freshmen here the other day,” Henson said. I said, ‘you’re in a unique position this year in that everyone’s going to be nervous on day one because it’s really a fresh start and a new start.’”
While the stylistic and philosophical differences that come with a coaching change may take time to sink in, Fleming and her teammates are both excited and open-minded about Henson’s visions for the program.
“I'm really excited to see what Coach Henson will bring to Concordia,” Fleming said. “I met him during the interview process and he expressed a lot interest in our goals and what we wanted out of this next season. He also described himself as a ‘soccer junkie’ so I'm hoping he'll bring a passion and strong knowledge of soccer to the program.”
Fleming and the rest of the squad may still be getting used to Henson and his coaching style, but Bulldog women’s soccer will feature a roster of players largely familiar with each other’s characteristics and talents. Fleming is one of five returners who started all 16 games together. Plus several Bulldogs, Fleming and even some incoming freshmen included, have played this summer in a nine-versus-nine league.
Along with Mussell, Fleming (six assists, one goal in 2012) and Donohoue (five assists, two goals), Concordia has starters in midfielders Meredith Hein, Marcie Sindt, Ashlie Sklenicka and forward Melissa Stine back in the fold. Stine finished second on the team with four goals.
In goal, Elyse Muhle is back after starting nine games as a freshman last season. Another sophomore – Taylor Wolf – got a taste of collegiate soccer, appearing in one game.
Considering the coaching change coming off of last season’s 6-9-1 overall record and eighth place GPAC finish, it’s difficult to pinpoint what’s in store for 2013. However, Henson aims to take the program to great heights down the road.
“The goal of any program at the collegiate level should be to get to the national tournament so that’s what we’re going to set for ourselves every year,” Henson said. “Obviously that’s not going to be necessarily realistic right off the bat, but that’s something that we’re always going to strive for, year in and year out.”
Henson will kick off his Concordia coaching career on Wednesday, Aug. 28 when Bethel College (Kan.) visits Seward for a 6 p.m. contest.