Surely it wasn’t going to happen again. The 2014 Concordia University women’s soccer team had surprised then 16th-ranked Hastings in a 2-1 upset in late October of that season. As the two sides prepared to meet in the GPAC tournament final on a bitter cold November evening, the Broncos seemed poised to exact their revenge, at least on paper. In the previous 18 years of the program’s existence, Concordia had beaten Hastings a grand total of one time.
This was new territory for the Bulldogs. Sure they had put some fine players on the field in the past, such as Gentri Brown and Jennifer Davis, but this was a first. In just his second season, head coach Greg Henson had Concordia believing.
Said Henson leading up to the championship game, “I think the biggest thing for us is that it’s not enough just to get there. We have our sights set on going and competing and looking to win the championship game.”
Considering the lack of championships in the program’s past, simply being there was actually quite an accomplishment. However, Nov. 13, 2014, turned into one of those nights for those associated with the program. One of those nights you never forget. The Bulldogs were outshot 25-4 and yet managed to knock off Hastings, 1-0, for a GPAC tournament title. Concordia women’s soccer had truly arrived. The 2014 team began a string of five-straight berths in the conference final.
When Henson took over the program, he began talking about raised expectations. Did the players truly believe it would happen this fast? A few years later, Henson would admit that the idea of winning any kind of championship appeared to require a leap of faith at the time. Said Henson, “That was one of the first things we talked about was competing for conference championships, then getting to nationals and what we had to do to make that happen. There were a few chuckles and a few strange looks on the players’ faces like, ‘This guy is a little crazy.’”
The Bulldogs went crazy on that bone-chilling November night in Hastings. They didn’t know how to act with anything other than sheer jubilation. They hadn’t been here before. Goalkeeper Chrissy Lind even rushed a goal-kick as the final seconds ticked off. Seniors Marcie Sindt and Rachel Mussell embraced before Sindt jumped into the arms of Lind. Mussell also shared a special moment with her older brother Andrew, a former member of the men’s soccer team.
Said Sindt after the game, “It’s definitely surreal. This was always the goal. Good things happen when you have really good leadership. I’m proud of the girls. I’m proud of the fight. It’s pretty crazy.”
A star freshman on the ’14 team, Jessica Skerston found the back of the net for the lone goal of the match. It came in the 80th minute and brought reality to the situation. Arguably the top goalkeeper in program history, Lind made nine saves to help keep the Broncos off the scoreboard. Hastings had lost only two games that season against GPAC opponents – both at the hands of the Bulldogs.
An important barrier had been broken down. Concordia had gotten over the Hastings mystique. “When we ended the game I think we were all a little in shock because Hastings had always been an opponent we could never get past,” Mussell said of the first victory over the Broncos in 2014. “I remember being in the locker room like, ‘We just beat Hastings. We just beat Hastings.’”
The 2014 Broncos eventually reached the round of 16 at the national tournament. They were not shut out often. They had three players who put away 13 or more goals that season (Taylor Geis, Kelsey Nealon and Megan Kruse), but couldn’t find a single one in the GPAC final. Henson was fine with Hastings dominating the shot count as long as those shots were of the unthreatening type. The strategy worked.
This wasn’t necessarily the most talented team Henson would field at Concordia, but its collaboration and togetherness made it a championship squad. Three Bulldogs were first team All-GPAC selections: Mussell, Melissa Stine and Skerston. Meanwhile, Sindt garnered second team honors.
“Making it to the national tournament has always been the goal,” Sindt explained in the aftermath of the title contest. “But I don’t think it was until probably two or three weeks ago that we started looking at each other and thinking, ‘Wow, we could actually do this.’ Cool things happen when you have a coach who believes in you. That’s when you start to believe in yourself.”
The 2014 Bulldogs finished the season at 16-3-3 overall (school record for wins in a season) and qualified for the opening round of the national tournament. This particular squad became the first one ever to crack the NAIA top 25 poll.
Added Mussell, “I don’t think I have ever felt as excited about something in my sports career as I was about winning the GPAC championship game.”
In his postgame comments, Henson remarked, “We set it as one of our goals to get to nationals, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thought it was a little bit off the radar. All season long we’ve been competing. This team has just gotten better and better as the season’s gone on. It started to seem like this was within our grasp. I can’t be any happier or more proud of the players on this roster.”
Senior comments leading up to the 2014 NAIA Opening Round
I don’t think I have ever felt as excited about something in my sports career as I was about winning the GPAC championship game. It’s hard to describe the feeling other than complete exhilaration. I think it has begun to sink in, especially as we have continued to practice and have begun to talk about the plans for the weekend.
I think it has been a very special experience to accomplish all of this as a team as a senior. We have been through a lot together as a class, and the journey is something that I think has prepared us to continue to fight to achieve our goals. There is something to be said when you have eight girls leading a team and playing to keep their soccer careers alive, and I think that is where we are all at. We don’t want this season to end yet, and we are playing like that.
Benedictine will be another tough opponent in a season that has been filled with tough opponents. It definitely gives us some confidence knowing that we have beaten Hastings twice this season, and I think we can also bring confidence in from the fact that we are very battle tested and don’t know what it means to quit. It is always nice seeing how a team has done against other teams, but at the end of the day what matters is that we do all of the things that have brought us to this point. When we do that, we will be successful.
It’s hard to describe what the feeling (of winning the GPAC title) was like. When we got to the 90th minute I was experiencing the moment with all my best friends. That’s what makes it so special.
It has been an incredible journey. Throughout the entire season we had to work for every match, we never had an easy result handed to us. It was hard work, but that’s what makes the accomplishment that much sweeter.
Emotions will be high but we are going to treat it like any other game. We’re going to focus on the things we’ve been doing all year to make us successful, and the rest will work itself out.
Through the excitement, the mindset has been just focused on the game we have coming, and preparing to play. We’ve kept our schedules open all week for all our different practice plans due to the turf being covered in snow. Everyone has been so cooperative. It hasn’t been difficult to focus at all. Winning the GPAC and being able to go to nationals is more than we could’ve ever imagined doing, and we want to play our best and looking to advance.
As for making it (to the national tournament) my senior year, I could not ask for a better way to end my college career. I’m so proud of this team and what we have accomplished this year. I’m not sure any words can describe the feeling I’ve had knowing we’re going to nationals. I’m just so blessed to be able to be given this opportunity I get to experience with my best friends.