Head Coach: Thomas Goines (11-6-2; 2nd season at Concordia; 84-61-18 in 9 years overall)
2020 Record: 11-6-2 overall; 9-2-1 GPAC (T-2nd)
Key Returners: MF Aliyah Aldama; D Allee Downing; D Ellie Eason; F Bethany Fuchs; MF Kadyn Lane; MF Madeline Haugen; MF Mikeila Martinez; D Callie McNary; D Cheyenne Smith; D Grace Soenksen; MF Michaela Twito.
Key Losses: MF Jaiden Beecher; GK Lindsey Carley; MF Tori Cera.
2020 GPAC All-Conference: Mikeila Martinez (First Team); Grace Soenksen (First Team); Allee Downing (Second Team); Jaiden Beecher (Honorable Mention); Lindsey Carley (Honorable Mention); Madeline Haugen (Honorable Mention); Cheyenne Smith (Honorable Mention); Michaela Twito (Honorable Mention).
It’s been just over four months since the Concordia University Women’s Soccer program celebrated an unusual spring GPAC tournament title run. Nine of the Bulldogs who started that GPAC championship win over Jamestown on April 9 have returned for a squad pegged for second in the conference preseason coaches’ poll. Based on recent history, this program has earned the benefit of the doubt. Incredibly, Concordia has reached the GPAC tournament title game in six of the past seven seasons.
Finally, Thomas Goines has had a chance to catch his breath and get his feet underneath of him after a whirlwind of a first season as head coach of the Bulldogs. Goines was impressed with the talent he inherited and now hopes Concordia can build upon last season.
“A lot of skill, a lot of competition,” said Goines of his first impressions regarding the 2021 team. “It’s a blending of younger players with returners. It’s going to be an interesting year for us. I’m excited for what we’re capable of doing. There’s a lot of talent on the field. It’s about getting our mentality back and hitting the reset button. We had a year-long season, which had never happened. We have to hit the ground running and keep that momentum that we finished the year on. They’ve taken that challenge and continue to grow every day.”
Not only did the Bulldogs capture the GPAC postseason banner during the 2020-21 two-part season, they also placed in a tie for second in the conference regular season standings and earned a signature victory over Briar Cliff. Six of the eight All-GPAC performers from last season have returned: Mikeila Martinez (first team), Grace Soenksen (first team), Allee Downing (second team), Madeline Haugen (honorable mention), Cheyenne Smith (honorable mention) and Michaela Twito (honorable mention). Martinez was the team’s leading goal scorer (seven goals) while Twito (fifth year) is on the cusp of breaking the program’s all-time record for career games played.
In the process of becoming a champion back in April, Concordia became a side that hung its hat on solid team defensive play. The 2020-21 team equaled a program record for fewest goals allowed in a single season (14). The back line became a strength behind all-conference honorees in Downing and Soenksen. Downing has taken well to an outside back role while Soenksen (whose sister Esther was a standout Bulldog) has developed into a rock at center back.
“We had to hang our hat on defense, especially late in the year,” Goines said. “Some of our attacking players weren’t available to us as we went further on. We had to become a gritty, defensive-minded program. I don’t think you lose that. We have a lot of women who gave everything in that defensive mentality. Hopefully some of the new additions and the things we’re working on in the preseason will give us a better attacking punch. We want to be a little more on the front foot and pressure teams. If we are put into a match where we know we have to defend, I’m confident we can compete in those matches.”
One would think this team would possess plenty of confidence after last season’s run. It was an unforgettable experience for the veterans who made it happen. Despite a string of close regular season spring defeats and other adverse circumstances, Concordia came together as a team and gutted it out in the postseason. Downing believes she knows why it all worked out.
Said Downing, “Definitely the team chemistry because I think that took us a long way. We all want to play for each other all the time. I think that motivates us to work really hard … Our run in April – that was so crazy. There were emotions I hadn’t felt and it makes all the hard work so worth it.”
The back line won’t have the luxury of four-year starter Lindsey Carley at goalkeeper this time around. In terms of career accolades and statistics, Carley goes down as one of the top goalkeepers in the history of the program. The final game of her career saw her record 13 saves and go out as a GPAC champion. The program has been spoiled with back-to-back four-year starters in Carley (2017-21) and Chrissy Lind (2013-17).
The current roster includes four goalkeepers, but none with extensive college game experience. The battle for the starting spot is still playing out in preseason.
Said Goines, “To replace Lindsey I don’t think is the right wording, but someone’s going to have to step in and fill those shoes. We’ve had a succession of quality goalkeepers here for a number of years. We have a really good position battle going on with four keepers who are fighting for that opportunity. I think it’s day-to-day. We’ve had girls who show well one day and then another girl who shows well the next day. It’s going to be very interesting to see who pulls ahead and wins that spot.”
No matter the keeper, the Bulldogs believe they will be able to keep opponent goals to a minimum. Perhaps a bigger question: who will score the goals? It may take a committee approach, but Martinez will certainly be a threat once again. During the GPAC postseason run, Bethany Fuchs played a heroic role in putting away the clinching PK in the semifinals and then the game winner in the final. In addition, Smith contributed four goals and Aliyah Aldama added three last season.
The trick is to “#FindAWay, which is the hashtag the @CUNEWSoccer Twitter account has put to use this preseason. Goines believes the newcomers will also have a hand in boosting the level of the Bulldogs. It’s likely newcomers will even crack the starting 11. It’s a new year and a new identity must be formed.
“I think the expectation for our program has always been one of excellence,” Goines said. “We’re expecting to compete. We had a great run of results at the end of the fall and topped it off by beating Briar Cliff, who was at the top of the conference. It was a great way to end a cycle. You can’t speak more highly of the women who came through that and all the things we addressed … This year’s team has to put its own chapter in the book. Our story is yet to be told.”
Concordia is embracing another season of high expectations. Said Downing, “It encourages our whole team to keep working hard because we have almost a target on our back.”
The 2021 season will officially kick off on Saturday, Aug. 28 when the Bulldogs host Tabor College (Kan.) at 1 p.m. CT.