Head coach: Greg Henson (37-18-8, three years)
2015 Record: 13-6-2 overall; 6-4-1 GPAC (T-4th); GPAC tournament runner up
Key Returners: D Jeannelle Condame; MF Maria Deeter; GK Chrissy Lind; D Ashley Martin; F Jordan McCoy; D Leah Shohat; F Jessica Skerston; MF Esther Soenksen
Key Newcomers: MF Sami Birmingham, F Rachael Bolin, MF Rebekah Freeman, MF Morgan Raska
Key Losses: MF Madison Hawkins; D Katrina Muther
2015 GPAC All-Conference: Maria Deeter (second team); Chrissy Lind (second team); Ashley Martin (second team); Jeannelle Condame (honorable mention); Jessica Skerston (honorable mention)
The current class of juniors knows nothing but success. Entering 2016, Concordia women’s soccer has earned the right to boast as the only program to reach the GPAC tournament title game two years running. Over that time the Bulldogs have gone a combined 28-9-6 for easily the best two-year record since women’s soccer became a varsity sport at Concordia in 1996.
With the help of fourth-year head coach Greg Henson, the perception of the program has changed. So too has the culture of a team that has celebrated on the home turf of conference power Hastings at consecutive GPAC tournaments.
Says Jordan McCoy, one of the team’s three captains, “It’s awesome. I know when Coach came in his first year he was saying things like that. I didn’t know what it meant. I was like, ‘Cool, we’ll go win the GPAC.’ Now it’s not just a goal, we have to do that to get our real goals. That’s an expectation for us and that’s awesome. When we first got here that wasn’t an expectation. It was a goal.”
The scary thing for opposing sides is that the 2015 Bulldog edition employed an overwhelmingly youthful roster after the graduation of a host of key players from the 2014 GPAC tournament championship team. Just two seniors started last year’s GPAC title tilt at Morningside, where another national tournament bid narrowly escaped Concordia’s grasp.
All five players who collected some form of all-conference recognition in 2015 are back with an eye on succeeding where last year’s group failed. There were letdowns in the middle of the season before a six-game unbeaten run that led into the GPAC championship. Behind rising star sophomore Maria Deeter, the Bulldogs are again setting their sights skyward.
“When you get there you get that taste (of nationals) and there’s an expectation to get back,” Henson said. “It’s easy to say it. It’s harder to do it. We have to go out and put the work in. We play in a very difficult conference. The best route for us is to get through the conference tournament. That’s three tough games at the end of the year. We’ve been on both sides of that the last two years. It’s a tough ticket to punch.”
Deeter, who took her game to a new level in the postseason, is stronger and more experienced after starting all 21 games in 2015. Deeter, fellow rookie Ashley Martin and senior Madison Hawkins were the only three Bulldogs not to miss a start. Martin joined Deeter with second team all-league honors. Deeter plays an attacking midfielder role while Martin held down an outside back spot.
Senior Chrissy Lind has already put together a career that makes her the most accomplished goalkeeper in program history. A native of Colorado Springs, Lind owns the most single-season and career shutouts in school annals and was one of the reasons why the Bulldogs again broke the program record for fewest goals allowed in a season while also topping all GPAC squads in fewest goals surrendered per game.
It’s not as if Concordia can’t score. It outnumbered its opponents by a tally of 45-16 in 2015 behind top goal scorers Esther Soenksen (12) and Jessica Skerston. But stingy defense will again be a hallmark of the 2016 team.
“We’re going to be defensively strong first,” Henson said. “Hopefully we can get going in the attack a little bit more. We’ve got some nice attacking-minded players and skilled players up front. In addition, we added a couple freshmen up front that are proven goal scorers at the high school and club levels. Hopefully we can put a few more balls in the back of the net, but at the end of the day we’re going to make sure we’re defensively strong out of the gate.”
Familiarity should allow Concordia to retain its defensive strength. Martin could again be joined in the back by juniors Jeannelle Condame and Leah Shohat. The three players combined for 55 starts in 2015. Shohat battled injury as a junior, but has the makings of another rock-solid center back. One of Condame’s biggest contributions is her ability to put the opposition in danger on set pieces.
The Bulldogs show plenty of potential for growth on their attacking end as well. Of the 45 goals it scored in 2015, 42 of them came from players who return in 2016. Skerston has totaled 27 goals over her first two seasons in Seward. Plus there’s help from a freshman class that adds additional goal-scoring options.
Considering there were just two significant roster departures – Hawkins and Katrina Muther – competition should be fierce for playing time.
“I said this last year at this time, and it’s still true,” Henson said in early August. “This is going to be the deepest team we’ve had in my four-year tenure here. I expect competition in preseason camp to be very good. There are a number of spots where we’ll have a lot players that can step in and win that job. It’s going be interesting to see who comes out on top to start the season and how things play out as the season goes along.”
In 2014 Concordia had the luxury of sneaking up on teams. That’s not the case two years later and three wins over Hastings (one was technically a tie) later. Now battles with Morningside and Hastings are viewed as heavyweight bouts. The Broncos won’t be taking the Bulldogs for granted.
“Those games are crazy,” said McCoy of the matchups with Hastings. “Those are the best memories I have. We’re on their field celebrating and they’re just walking away like, ‘How did we let that happen?’ I think before we needed to earn their respect a little bit and now they’re like, ‘OK, this is a big game for us, too.’ It’s more of a rivalry. Before they knew they were better than us.”
A program that has averaged 14 wins over the past two years could be in for another fun ride, especially if this more experienced group can avoid its 2015 midseason lull that resulted in three-straight 1-0 defeats.
“Last year the best lesson that our players learned was that you can’t take days off in this conference and you can’t take anybody for granted,” Henson said. “If you do you’re going to come out on the wrong end of the result. They realized that last year. We have to stay focused if we’re going to do what we really want to do, which is win the conference outright. That’s where we need to get to. It’s a matter of consistency throughout the year.”
Said Deeter, “I’m counting down the days for the season to start. I’m pumped.”
Notable: Greg Henson is just two wins away from passing Bill Schranz (38-53-1) for the most coaching victories in program history. Henson has engineered a three-year mark of 37-18-8 since taking over in 2013.