Bulldogs advance to GPAC semifinals for second-straight year

SEWARD, Neb. – A thrilling season for the Concordia University women’s soccer team motors into the GPAC tournament semifinals for the second-straight year. The second-seeded Bulldogs earned their way there by topping rival and seventh-seeded Doane, 2-1, in a quarterfinal match played inside Bulldog Stadium on Tuesday night.

By extending its program record win total to 13, head coach Greg Henson’s squad will play host to sixth-seeded Dakota Wesleyan (9-9-1) at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Dakota Wesleyan upset third-seeded Midland, 2-1, in overtime on Tuesday in another quarterfinal tilt.

For the Bulldogs (13-2-4), the opportunity to host in the semifinals (first time ever) represents another bullet point in the growing list of achievements accumulated by the 2014 team.

“We wanted to finish in the top four. That was our No. 1 goal for the season,” Henson said. “Once we got there we wanted to get as high of a seed as possible to give us the opportunity to host in more than one round. It’s great to be here (in this position).”

A week after nearly shutting out the GPAC’s most prolific offensive team in a 2-1 upset of No. 16 Hastings, the Bulldogs held Doane (6-10-1) scoreless until a well-placed free kick by Kasey Hoppes found Meghan Voigt for the 90th-minute header, cutting their deficit to a single goal. It simply came a little too late for a Tiger squad that entered the night ranked third in the conference with an average of 2.13 goals per game.

It was another solid effort from a Concordia backline made up of three seniors and one freshman. Senior right back Katrina Muther and the Bulldogs are unbeaten over their last 11 games, and they’ve had a blast in the process.

“It’s really awesome, especially for us seniors,” Muther said. “We’ve come so far. A lot of us never pictured us in this place, but I think our team has a really good head on its shoulders. We know we have to take one game at a time. We like to celebrate what we’ve done and also remember that each day comes with new trials and new opportunities.”

Concordia took the lead in the final seconds of the first half when it took advantage of a drawn out goalkeeper. Sophomore Jordan McCoy pushed the ball behind the defense to senior Emmalynn Rodriguez, who tapped the ball from right at the edge of the 18 past hard-charging keeper Kayla Wegman. It was the second goal of the season for the native of Kansas City, Mo.

The score remained 1-0 for more than 25 minutes until the Bulldogs struck again. Held scoreless over the previous three games, freshman Jessica Skerston capitalized on a misplay in the back and knocked in her team-leading 15th goal in the 76th minute.

Unlike the first meeting with Doane that saw a flurry of goals in the first 10 minutes following kickoff, Tuesday’s game started slow in terms of serious threats on goal. Doane settled into the game a bit more quickly and produced the first two shots of the night. Reigning GPAC defensive player of the week Chrissy Lind began the game impressively by making a leaping save of a well-taken shot by Krystal Lozier in the second minute. Lind finished with four saves.

“We knew coming in that it would be a tough match,” Henson said. “It’s playoff time and every game’s going to be tough. It’s a survive and advance mentality right now. Doane’s a very good team and I don’t think deserving of seven seed. I think they’re a better team than that.”

Concordia ended Tuesday’s game with a 19-12 advantage in the shot count. Both teams generated more chances during the second half. Skerston narrowly missed on a couple of her six total shots and Doane leading goal scoring Sara Cushing headed a ball late that sailed just over the crossbar.

No matter the late scares, it added up to another Bulldog victory. On to the semifinals.

“That’s really exciting,” Muther said. “We’ve never done it. And we had an awesome fan base today so thank you to everyone who came out. It’s a big advantage for us playing on turf and playing at home. We’re really excited and looking forward to that game.”

Saturday’s semifinal is a rematch of a 2-0 Concordia won over Dakota Wesleyan on Nov. 1.