Gutty Bulldogs capture program's third GPAC tourney title

By Jacob Knabel on Apr. 9, 2021 in Women's Soccer

SEWARD, Neb. – The run through the GPAC postseason wasn’t always a thing of beauty, but when it came to a nerve-wracking conclusion, it was the Concordia University Women’s Soccer team that celebrated with the trophy and banner. Appearing in the final home game of her career, goalkeeper Lindsey Carley showed the heart of a champion. She made 13 critical saves in a 2-1 championship game win over Jamestown on a drizzly, chilly Friday (April 9) night inside Bulldog Stadium.

The Bulldogs (11-6-2) aren’t exactly an underdog program considering their recent success, but this moment would have seemed improbable at certain points this spring. This April, Head Coach Thomas Goines got his team to believe and to take on the identity of a gritty, tough defensive-oriented bunch.

“It’s just belief,” Goines said. “We’ve gone over how many things they had to overcome this year. It was just about believing that you can come out against a very, very good team like Jamestown, who’s riding a high. We came out and grinded out a result. It boils down to believing you have the ability to do it and execute when you can. All the credit goes to the girls for being able to take this moment and be bigger than it.”

The consistent rain sometimes put members of both teams on roller skates. While splish-splashing around the park, the fifth-seeded Jimmies (13-8) managed to outshoot Concordia, 19-6. Even when the Bulldogs gained a 2-0 advantage on Bethany Fuchs’ breakaway goal, it didn’t feel safe. Jamestown finally cracked the scoreboard in the 72nd minute when Autumn Opperud slid the ball over the goal line from point-blank range. If only for a moment, the brick wall that was Carley had been broken down.

Less than two minutes earlier, Carley had preserved the shutout with a denial of Kamryn Fiscus on a penalty kick. A five-year member of the program, Carley had been the starting keeper for heartbreaking GPAC tournament finals against Hastings in both 2017 and 2018. No, not this time.

“My sophomore and junior year we came so close, but we just couldn’t finish it out,” Carley said. “To be able to come out and finish it in my last year is just amazing. I couldn’t ask for better teammates to have next to me … it took a moment to switch back on after having a gap from the fall. We had to rebuild and re-establish who we were. We were ready for the tournament.”

Fuchs earned credit for the game-winning goal, three days after she played the role of hero in a semifinal shootout advancement that took eight rounds of PKs. In the 67th minute on Friday, Fuchs got loose behind the Jimmie defenders with the help of a well-executed ball by Lina Kirst. Fuchs had her first shot saved by keeper Alex Nowka. She calmly followed the rebound and put away a monumental goal.

Kirst also set up the game’s first goal with a perfectly placed free kick that ping-ponged its way to Cheyenne Smith, who got enough of the ball to find the back of the net. At that point, a potential GPAC title felt real.

“I think we scored with 35 minutes left in the half and that was the longest 35 minutes I’ve ever lived through,” Goines said. “I don’t know if I could tell you the right word for the emotion. There’s a certain disbelief and absolute elation for the staff and the girls. Yelling and jumping up and down was about all we could do to express ourselves.”

Fifteen different Bulldogs saw action on Friday and many more had a hand in making this possible. Allee Downing and Grace Soenksen were terrific all year while senior Michaela Twito has been a rock in the midfield. Aliyah Aldama and Callie McNary came through with a goal apiece in the quarterfinals and there was that unforgettable PK shootout in the semifinals – the list goes on.

As soon as reality sets in, Concordia will remember that it has a national tournament to prepare for. That was not on anyone’s radar just yet. Said Carley, “There’s no better way (to go out at home).  I couldn’t have pictured it any differently. It’s amazing to come out and win at home. We got kind of lucky to host the entire tournament as a three seed. It’s just amazing.”

The Bulldogs made their sixth GPAC tournament title appearance in seven seasons. Under former head coach Greg Henson, Concordia won conference postseason championships in 2014 and 2016 and a GPAC regular-season title in 2017. With Friday’s result, the program got sweet revenge for last season’s 4-0 GPAC quarterfinal loss at Jamestown.

The NAIA national qualifiers, pairings and site assignments will be announced at 11 a.m. CT on Monday (April 12) via a live selection show. There are 10 possible NAIA Opening Round destinations for the Bulldogs. Those sites are listed HERE.