Featured Story

Season-In-Review: 2021 Concordia Women's Soccer

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 29, 2021 in Women's Soccer

For the most part, the 2021 Concordia University Women’s Soccer team carried over the formula used during the previous spring that carried the Bulldogs to a GPAC tournament championship. Grit and hard-nosed, defensive-minded play allowed Concordia to compete with anyone in the GPAC. Head Coach Thomas Goines’ squad often walked a tight rope and even won two games in overtime in 2021.

Ultimately, the Bulldogs fell to Hastings, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. That type of result became the norm this fall.

“If we didn’t have the senior leadership we had it might have been a tougher year,” Goines said. “The players who have been here and been part of titles and playoff runs really helped us stay together and fight through those matches. We were not an offensive team, but we took on an identity of a team that could battle in close matches and find a result more often than not. That was our personality with this year’s team – gritty. We had to find results in tight games. It’s hard to think of a game where I felt super comfortable the whole way through. That one-goal lead can disappear pretty quick. I was happy with our fight.”

Concordia battled its way to a 9-7-2 final overall record. Thirteen of 18 games were decided by one-goal margins or in draws. Seven of the season’s final 10 outings ended with 1-0 final scores. Thrills came in the form of golden goals produced by Lina Kirst in the 2-1 victory at Bellevue and by Madeline Haugen in the 2-1 win over Morningside. In addition, the Bulldogs gave a strong push to GPAC champion Jamestown (undefeated in GPAC play) in a 1-0 defeat in North Dakota.

Throughout the campaign, Concordia made it a challenge for opponents to put the ball in the back of the net. Behind standout center back Grace Soenksen, the Bulldogs conceded a total of 20 goals for the season. All-conference awards were handed out to Soenksen (first team), Haugen (second team), Allee Downing (honorable mention), Mikeila Martinez (honorable mention) and Kalie Ward (honorable mention).

On senior day that saw a win over Presentation, Concordia celebrated a class that included not only Haugen, Martinez and Ward, but also Bethany Fuchs, Callie McNary, Sydney Rogers and Cheyenne Smith. In another memorable moment, Smith returned from injury and came through with the game-winning goal in the 1-0 win over Midland. A fifth-year member of the program, Michaela Twito will depart after playing in a school record 97 career games. She served as a central figure on two separate GPAC championship teams.

Said Goines of the seniors, “You can’t say enough about them. They’ve been through this. A lot of them played in 50, 60 or 70 games. It tells you the impact they have had on the program. They’ve grown into it and helped the program develop an identity. They’ve gone through three coaches in their careers – and COVID. You couldn’t ask for more from a group of women that have been so successful. It’s too small to just say, ‘thank you,’ but it’s the only thing we can say as they move on to another part of their lives.”

It was a grind on the attack for the Bulldogs, who put away 23 goals on the year. Haugen was the team leader with four goals while Martinez added three goals and four assists. One of the great stories that emerged in the fall was the play of Ward at keeper. She was tasked with replacing four-year starter Lindsey Carley and rose to the challenge by posting a save percentage of .782 and goals against average of 1.11. Among freshmen, Kearney, Neb., Taylor Slaymaker made the largest impact while earning a starting role as an outside back.

It will be players like Slaymaker who will have the opportunity to take ownership of future Concordia squads that will attempt to put the program back in the running for conference championships. Said Goines, “As much as you’re sad about the players moving on, it creates a huge opportunity for the younger players who have been waiting for their time. This group is very excited about showing that it’s their turn to continue the excellent tradition we have here. We’re going to see how that battle shapes up – and we’re excited about the incoming class as well. We want to give everyone a chance to rest mentally and physically and then hit the gas hard this winter and try to create a new identity. We want to maintain that gritty, hard-working and competitive attitude and continue to develop the skillful and attacking side of things.”

Unlike this past season, the Bulldogs will have a more normal offseason as they look ahead to 2022. The deep postseason run of April 2021 meant there was less focus on individual skill development. The aim during that time was to find a way to continue to survive and advance. The spring semester of 2022 will provide a more relaxed environment conducive to across-the-board improvement. Despite an abrupt GPAC tournament exit, the program will move forward with many positive takeaways from 2021.

“It was a fun ride,” Goines said. “We had high expectations and the girls met that from a competitive sense. Certainly we wanted to make a deeper run in the playoffs, but they competed all year and came together to be such a close-knit group and family. I’m just really proud to be part of it.”