SEWARD, Neb. – If you thought a standard five rounds of penalty kicks made for a tense finish, try eight. That’s what it took Tuesday (April 7) night to decide a GPAC finalist in another postseason rivalry clash between the Concordia University Women’s Soccer team and Midland. In the end, it was Bethany Fuchs who set off a wild celebration with the clincher on PK No. 8 of the shootout. That tension followed a 0-0 draw in 110 minutes of the GPAC semifinal matchup.
This program is accustomed to making runs to the GPAC championship game, but this one comes under unique circumstances. November glory has been traded for April jubilation. Head Coach Thomas Goines’ has his team (10-6-2 overall) moving on to the conference final in his first season leading the Bulldogs.
“It’s kind of an unfair finish to a really good match,” Goines said. “Midland played a great game. It was my favorite match of the entire year. When you get to that point it’s every emotion wrapped into one. It takes bravery for these kids to step up in front of the crowd after playing two full periods of overtime and take the shot. It’s immense. I’ve experienced a handful in my playing career and a handful in my coaching career and none of them are easy. It’s hard to explain the emotion. When you win, there’s not a better feeling.”
At times it felt like Concordia was running into a brick wall in terms of its offensive attack. The Warriors mounted a greater number of dangerous chances in the first 90 minutes, but this one had the feel of a game that was destined for a shootout. Goalkeeper Lindsey Carley made seven saves and the Bulldogs were able to contain athletic striker Brittany Llanes (three shots on goal).
There was just one single shot apiece over the 20 minutes of overtime action. Both teams played to preserve the tie and set the stage for a dramatic conclusion. Both teams converted two the first five PKs. Both teams traded successful tries in the sixth and seventh PK rounds before a Midland misfire in round eight gave Concordia another crack at clinching it. That’s when Fuchs calmly rocketed a shot into the back of the net.
The transfer from Western Nebraska Community College will never forget this night. Said Fuchs, “All week long we prepared for this moment, whether it was going to come down to PKs or not. I felt very prepared going into the moment. I knew exactly where I was going to shoot it. I knew exactly when the whistle blew not to give it any time and just go for it. No matter what happens, I have a team behind my back supporting me.”
It truly has been a team effort for the Bulldogs to navigate their way back to the GPAC final. This isn’t quite the same squad Goines put out in the fall. There are different pieces playing larger minutes and some of the roles have changed. Goals are not easy to come by, but this team will fight you to the end. In the quarterfinals, Callie McNary and Aliyah Aldama emerged with a goal apiece – whatever it takes.
Said Goines, “I can’t be more proud of how far they’ve come in such a short period of time. COVID makes everything you do a challenge from scheduling practice to having a spring season. We’ve had players coming and going. It’s been a tough thing to adjust. Some players’ roles have changed. Stepping up in these moments is huge. I couldn’t be more proud of how far they’ve come.”
Lina Kirst had a shot in the final minute of double overtime that went just over the crossbar, but that was one of the very few serious attacks after regulation. The seventh-seeded Warriors had the upper hand in the shot department, 13-9, and had a slight edge in corners, 9-8. Midland (7-5-4) reached the semifinals by upsetting No. 2 seed Morningside in the quarterfinals.
Another upset on the other side of the bracket means Concordia will also host the GPAC tournament title game, just as the program did in 2016 and 2017. The Bulldogs will welcome fifth-seeded Jamestown to Seward for a 7 p.m. CT kickoff on Friday (April 9) with a national tournament bid at stake. Concordia has advanced to the conference postseason final in six of the past seven seasons.
PK Shootout Recap
· Midland: Rachel Thigpen – N (0-0)
· Concordia: Jaiden Beecher – N (0-0)
· Midland: Chloe Dietz – N (0-0)
· Concordia: Michaela Twito – Y (1-0 CUNE)
· Midland: Melissa Warner – Y (1-1)
· Concordia: Lina Kirst – Y (2-1 CUNE)
· Midland: Arianna Flores – Y (2-2)
· Concordia: Sydney Ross – N (2-2)
· Midland: Brittany Llanes – N (2-2)
· Concordia: Cheyenne Smith – N (2-2)
· Midland: Emily Ambrose – Y (3-2 MID)
· Concordia: Allee Downing – Y (3-3)
· Midland: Dana Gomez – Y (4-3 MID)
· Concordia: Ellie Eason – Y (4-4)
· Midland: Lauren Montgomery – N (4-4)
· Concordia: Bethany Fuchs – Y (5-4 CUNE)