No. 24 Bulldogs headed to ninth-ranked Benedictine for national tournament opening round

SEWARD, Neb. – (Tournament bracketThe first-ever national tournament game in the 19-year history of the Concordia University women’s soccer program will take place at the BC Soccer Complex in Atchison, Kan. The 24th-ranked GPAC tournament champion Bulldogs (15-2-4) will square off with No. 9 Benedictine (18-1) on Saturday in the opening round of the 2014 NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championships, as announced by the NAIA on Monday afternoon. Game time has not been determined.

Winners of the 15 opening round games will then advance to play at the final site in Orange Beach, Ala., where the national championships will resume on Monday, Dec. 1. Concordia is one of 31 teams that have qualified for the event.

Coming off the first-ever GPAC title that clinched its first-ever national tournament bid and boosted it to its first-ever national ranking, second-year head coach Greg Henson’s squad enters Saturday’s game with a 13-game (9-0-4) unbeaten streak. The Bulldogs know they will have to maintain their high level of play to keep the thrill ride going on the national stage.

“Benedictine’s been a good program for a number of years,” Henson said. “We played them last fall and fell to them, 2-0. They have a great facility and we’re looking forward to playing at the national tournament. We expect a tough game.”

Concordia will have to quickly familiarize itself with the Ravens, who qualified for the national championships by winning the Heart of America Athletic Conference championship. Prior to 2014, the Bulldogs played Benedictine seven-straight years. The Ravens won each of those matchups.

Benedictine has won 10-consecutive games since its only loss of the season – a 3-2 decision versus Hastings, who Concordia has defeated twice in 2014. The latest Bulldog victory over the Broncos gave Henson’s squad an automatic bid to the national tournament. The most meaningful win in program history has Concordia in unfamiliar territory.

“There’s a general sense of excitement about this new opportunity,” Henson said. “They’re all looking forward to it. It gives our seniors at least one more chance to play with their teammates and friends, and it’s a big, positive step for our program.”

Benedictine, led by 19 goals from Bethany Smith, checks in near the top of the NAIA in a number of key statistical categories. On the national leaderboard, the Ravens rank third in shutouts (13), ninth in shots on goal per game (11.2) and 10th in goals per game (3.47). Head coach Lincoln Roblee’s program is making its third national tournament appearance. The Ravens are 0-2 on the national stage.

Saturday’s winner in Atchison will advance to play either No. 8 Spring Arbor (Mich.) (18-1-1) or AIB (Iowa) (12-6-2) in Orange Beach.

Concordia women’s soccer notes

  • A ‘standard-setting’ season for Concordia women’s soccer continued last week with the most significant win in the 19-year history of the program. The Bulldogs defeated regular-season conference champion and 20th-ranked Hastings, 1-0, in the GPAC tournament title game on Nov. 13. The victory gave head coach Greg Henson’s squad its first-ever GPAC title and clinched the program’s first-ever national tournament berth. Three days later, Concordia was rewarded with its first-ever national ranking. The 24th-rated Bulldogs will enter Saturday’s NAIA national tournament opening round game with an overall record of 15-2-4.
  • Concordia began the 2014 season with a record of 1-22-1 all-time versus Hastings. Until the Bulldogs upset the then No. 16 Broncos, 2-1, on Oct. 29, their lone victory over Hastings had come in 2009. The Broncos still managed to get the final at-large bid to this year’s national tournament and will make their fifth appearance on the grand stage. The Bulldogs are 3-1 against national qualifying teams with wins over Hastings (twice) and AIB (Iowa). The loss came at the hands of Bellevue University, 4-3, now the 17th-ranked team in the NAIA.
  • Henson’s squad won the GPAC title game despite being out-shot, 25-4. Sophomore goalkeeper Chrissy Lind came through with one of the best performances of her young career, making nine saves to extend her school record shutout total to 10 (12 total team shutouts). She also got solid play in front of her from Concordia’s back line of freshman Jeannelle Condame (left back) and seniors Rachel Mussell (left center back), Marcie Sindt (right center back) and Katrina Muther (right back). Their work allowed the Bulldogs to overcome their season low shot total.
  • Freshman Jessica Skerston provided the only goal in the win. The native of St. Charles, Mo., played a cross from senior Emmalynn Rodriguez and tucked the ball inside the right post for her 17th goal of the season in the 80th minute. Skerston, ranked 20th nationally in total goals, leads all NAIA women’s soccer players with eight game-winning goals – a total that breaks the former school record of five by three different Bulldogs.
  • Skerston and company have won gone 13-consecutive games (9-0-4) without a loss. That streak stretches back to a 4-2 loss to College of Saint Mary on Sept. 24 (only home defeat). Since then, the Bulldogs have recorded eight shutouts and have allowed a total of just five goals (never more than one in a single game). The 13-game run has seen Concordia put 20 goals (seven from Skerston) on the board.
  • Lind, who now has 83 saves on the season, moved up to No. 23 among all NAIA goalkeepers in terms of goals against average (.710) with her 13th career shutout last week. With two full seasons of eligibility remaining, Lind has already surpassed the previous program record for career shutouts. Ariel Harris is the former record holder with 12 shutouts from 2008-11.
  • Concordia is one of seven teams making their first-ever national tournament appearance in 2014. The other six are AIB (Iowa), Menlo (Calif.), Northwestern Ohio, Oklahoma Baptist, Rio Grande (Ohio) and William Woods (Mo.). Westmont (Calif.) tops the qualifying field with 17 national tournament appearances.