For so many reasons, the 2020-21 season of Concordia University Women’s Soccer will always stand out as a memorable one. Despite the challenges faced, and a new-look lineup that surfaced in the spring, it was the Bulldogs who celebrated with the GPAC postseason championship trophy and banner on the night of April 9. In year one as head coach, Thomas Goines had guided his squad to what would have seemed like an improbable GPAC championship run just a couple of weeks earlier.
It took most of the month of March, but Concordia found an identity as a gritty bunch that succeeded by outworking its opponents. In the 2-1 GPAC championship game win over Jamestown, the Bulldogs prevailed with the help of 13 saves by Lindsey Carley, one of the program’s all-time great keepers.
“The team just showed an immense amount of grit and toughness and the ability to fight through,” Goines said. “Jamestown is a very good team, especially in the attack. It took the entire group to defend them and keep them at bay for as long as we could. We’ve had a whole lot of adversity through COVID and the adjustments we’ve had to make. To have them put that amount of fight and effort in – it was just fun to watch.”
Thanks to the GPAC tourney title, the 2020-21 Concordia team locked up the program’s third national tournament bid. The campaign represented a fine bounce back from the 2019 season that ended with a 6-11-2 overall mark and a defeat in the GPAC tournament quarterfinals. For an outfit used to playing deep into the postseason, this was more like it. Back in the fall, the Bulldogs tied for second in the GPAC regular season (9-2-1), ending that portion of the schedule with a 1-0 victory over conference regular season champion Briar Cliff. Goines’ squad also picked up a 1-0 win over heated rival Hastings and made a mockery of Doane, 7-0.
Little did anyone know at the time, but five key performers from that win over Briar Cliff would not be part of the squad during any of the three rounds of the GPAC tournament. It made for a unique dynamic when action started back up in the spring. In spring regular season action, Concordia lost three games each by one-goal margins, at the hands of Southwestern (Kan.), Benedictine (Kan.) and Grand View (Iowa). Despite those results, the Bulldogs banded together for the postseason.
Said Carley following the GPAC championship game, “My sophomore and junior year we came so close, but we just couldn’t finish it out. 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.”
Nothing came easy in the GPAC tournament. Concordia got past Dakota Wesleyan, 2-1, in the quarterfinals, survived a PK shootout (eight rounds) with Midland in the semifinals and then held off Jamestown in the title game despite a significant disadvantage in the shot count. It was truly a team effort. Aliyah Aldama drilled a breathtaking game-winning goal to beat DWU before Bethany Fuchs emerged with the clinching PK versus Midland and earned credit for the game winner versus Jamestown.
Everything came together at the right time. As the No. 3 seed, the Bulldogs got the opportunity to host through the entire playoffs as upsets were rampant throughout the tournament. Then with a championship on the line, Carley came up with the type of performance that will go down in program lore.
“I don’t think you can say enough (about Carley’s performance),” Goines said. “I’ve only had the honor of working with her for this year. She put on a show. She had a penalty kick save that was just massive and a couple punches in crowds. It just showed her quality. You really can’t say enough about a senior who does that in such a big moment. She put the team on her back and pulled us over the finish line.”
Eight Bulldogs collected All-GPAC awards back in the fall: Mikeila Martinez (first team), Grace Soenksen (first team), Allee Downing (second team), Jaiden Beecher (honorable mention), Carley (honorable mention), Madeline Haugen (honorable mention), Cheyenne Smith (honorable mention) and Michaela Twito (honorable mention). Martinez paced the squad in both goals (seven) and assists (four) while Beecher and Smith added four goals apiece.
Unfortunately, Concordia did not get to experience the national tournament. As announced on April 15, the team withdrew from the opening round due to COVID-19 positives within the program. Due to those circumstances, the Bulldogs were held back from making the trip to Columbia, Mo., where they were slated to play Keiser (Fla.), the eventual national champion.
The abrupt ending aside, Concordia made lasting memories of a season unlike any other in the history of the program. For the graduates who are moving on, they will forever be able to tell people about how they ended their collegiate soccer careers by winning a GPAC championship. After a series of close spring defeats, the Bulldogs morphed into a side that found ways to gut out victories.
Said Goines, “It comes to a point where you develop your identity and know who you’re going to be – and just embrace it. We’ve gone through the process of trying to figure out who we are as far as skill level and intensity level. What was our brand going to be? We faced a lot of challenges this spring that brought us closer together. The girls looked at it and said, we’re going to challenge everyone and we’re not going to back off. That was an amazing switch they flipped. Each game in the playoffs was a much different type of game. We had about every match you could have in the three games. I’m just really proud of the team.”