SEWARD, Neb. – Live it up. This is the golden age of Concordia University women’s soccer. For the second time in three seasons, the Bulldogs are champions of the GPAC tournament. In front of a raucous crowd inside Bulldog Stadium, the freshman duo of Sami Birmingham and Rachael Bolin ensured that a one-goal deficit was no big deal. Concordia avenged its conference championship loss from a year earlier by toppling Morningside, 3-1, in Thursday night’s title game.
Postseason magic is alive and well for Concordia (15-5-1). While hosting a GPAC championship game for the first time in program history, the Bulldogs took the home fans on another thrill ride.
“We had a great crowd tonight. Thanks to all the fans and students that showed up to support the girls today,” Henson said. “We couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere to play soccer in. This is absolutely great. We rose to the occasion, especially in the second half. I’m really just proud of the girls today and all they’ve accomplished.”
Two of its most reliable goal scorers all year helped rescue Concordia from a 1-0 hole. Even a stingy defensive unit that shut out top-seeded Hastings in the semifinals struggled to contain the Killer B’s of Birmingham and Bolin. They teamed up on the equalizer in the 27th minute when Bolin played a ball behind the defense that Birmingham put away for her 19th goal of the season.
After being outplayed early on, Concordia settled in while playing in front of a crowd of at least 500 in number, something unheard of for women’s soccer in the GPAC. Just 1:39 into the second half, Bolin displayed impressive flair by somehow tucking in a sharply angled ball just inside the left post for what proved to be the game-winning score. Bulldog Stadium was on fire.
In the 83rd minute, Birmingham got loose with another goal assisted by Bolin. This was the kill shot Concordia had been looking for.
“Going in I was really nervous and I didn’t know what to expect,” Birmingham said. “Once we started playing and playing the game we know how to play, we took the lead. It was very exciting when the clock hit zero.”
A potential postgame celebration was in doubt in the 27th minute when Chloe Wetzbarger knocked in the game’s first goal after a free kick struck by Ellie Freebern. In the chaos of the scramble in the box, Wetzbarger went unmarked.
Concordia also found itself trailing 1-0 in the GPAC quarterfinals versus Briar Cliff. The Bulldogs won going away, 5-1. This is simply a confident group that knows how to deal with early deficits.
“I was nervous because obviously going down isn’t fun,” Condame said. “But I knew that we had the capability of coming back to win this game.”
Making her third career start in a GPAC championship game, senior goalkeeper Chrissy Lind made 12 saves in a contest in which Morningside held a slight 15-13 shot advantage. Lind made a particularly impressive save of a header in the second half. The Bulldogs were also fortunate not to get down 2-0 when a Mustang strike nailed the crossbar.
But for the most part, Concordia has made its own breaks in postseason play.
“We want to be playing our best soccer at the end of the year,” Henson said. “The way our schedule sets up, our only shot to get into the national tournament is by winning the conference tournament. November is what we build ourselves for.”
While the goal scoring was taken over by Birmingham and Bolin, the efforts of the back four and star midfielder Maria Deeter were again essential in Concordia’s run to a GPAC tournament title. Not only has the 2016 team clinched a national tournament berth, it has also tied the 2014 squad for the most wins in a single season in program history.
Morningside (10-8-2) made its third GPAC tournament championship game appearance in four years. The Mustangs defeated Northwestern and Hastings before making their way to Seward.
National qualifiers and brackets for the national tournament will be announced by the NAIA via a selection show on Monday, Nov. 14. The opening round of the national tournament will be played at 15 campus sites to be determined. For more information on the national championships, click HERE.
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