FEATURE: 2014 Bulldogs set standard for women’s soccer program

By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications

After senior Melissa Stine emerged from a scramble with her fifth goal of the season to increase the Concordia lead over Dakota Wesleyan on Saturday, Imagine Dragons hit “On Top of the World” blared from the Bulldog Stadium speaker system. Concordia women’s soccer may not have actually been on top of the world, but it sure felt like it.

The Bulldogs were in the midst of winding down their program record-breaking 12th win of the season during a week that could be described as the high point, at least to date, in the 19-year history of Concordia women’s soccer.

It’s not hyperbole. Second-year head coach Greg Henson’s Bulldogs have taken to rewriting the program record books like their next meal depends upon it.

“To finish the regular season undefeated and in second place is a great accomplishment,” Henson said following Saturday’s win. “This team has really set the new standard for the women’s soccer program.”

In terms of team records, the 2014 squad got greedy. Most overall wins in a season? Check. Most shutouts in a season? Check. Highest conference finish in school history? Check. First undefeated conference regular season ever? Check. Fewest goals allowed in a single season. On track!

Those records are cool and all, but the accomplishment that legitimized the regular season occurred last week when Concordia upset a 16th-ranked Hastings team that it had beaten only once in 24 prior meetings. The Broncos had won 20-straight contests versus GPAC foes and had outscored conference opponents this season by a combined score of 26-2 entering the Oct. 29 battle.

Perhaps there are bigger wins to come this year, but there likely have not been any more satisfying victories in the first 19 seasons of the program than the one that came on that late October night.

“Obviously it feels really good,” senior Meredith Hein said after the Hastings win. “We worked really hard for this and we’ve been waiting for this game. We went out there knowing that we have to compete the best we can and play our game and not just to hang with them.”

The way Henson and his team approached the upset victory says a lot about why these Bulldogs were able to run through the 10-game conference schedule without a single loss. They have not been quick to simply rest on their laurels.

“Celebrate it. Enjoy it,” Henson told his team after the game. “But when you show up at practice tomorrow, it’s done.”

The Bulldogs got the message. Three days later they took care of business in a 2-0 win over Dakota Wesleyan that wasn’t as close as the score. It was the perfect capper on the best regular season any Concordia women’s soccer team has ever pulled off.

There were signs out of the gate that this Concordia team was different. It began the campaign with a 1-0 win over an AIB squad that is now receiving votes in the national poll. Then the Bulldogs nearly went on the road and knocked off Bellevue University (now ranked 23rd) but let a late one-goal lead slip away.

Led by a nice mix of a senior class teeming with leadership on down to a freshman group that has provided critical goal-scoring punch, Concordia rebounded with five-straight wins – all on the road – to put that Bellevue loss behind it.

Other than two non-conference losses that saw their opponents put up four goals apiece, the Bulldogs’ collective defensive effort has been airtight in support of sophomore goalkeeper Chrissy Lind. Before the season began, Henson made a calculated gamble by moving leading goal scorer Rachel Mussell to center back. With freshman Jessica Skerston surfacing as one of the GPAC’s top strikers and Mussell leading a stellar back line, it’s safe to say the switch has paid off.

Mussell sacrificed the goal scoring glory in a move that was truly all about the team. Look where it’s taken it.

“(Breaking the wins record) is something that the senior class, since we were freshmen, has talked about,” Mussell said after the regular-season finale. “We knew we had a big class coming in and it was full of athleticism and full of leadership.

“We definitely didn’t have any idea (it would turn out like this), but it was a goal we always wanted to achieve.”

As Henson is likely to tell his team, none of those achievements will matter when the ball is kicked off inside Bulldog Stadium at Tuesday’s GPAC tournament quarterfinal game. But the fact that Concordia earned a conference playoff tournament home contest should not be taken lightly. As the Imagine Dragons wrote, we’ve “been waiting on this for a while now.”

Henson may retort with, “We have more work to do” just as did after last week’s upset win.

GPAC Quarterfinal on Tuesday: The second-seeded Bulldogs (12-2-4, 6-0-4 GPAC) host seventh-seeded Doane (6-9-1, 4-5-1 GPAC) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday as the GPAC postseason gets underway. The winner will advance to play either third-seeded Midland (13-4-1, 6-3-1 GPAC) or sixth-seeded Dakota Wesleyan (8-9-1, 4-5-1 GPAC) on Saturday.