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Season-In-Review: 6-0 start, win over Benedictine highlight 2022 campaign

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 18, 2022 in Women's Soccer

There were ups and downs in 2022, but the Concordia University Women’s Soccer team proved it could hang with anyone in the GPAC while also making history with the longest unbeaten run the program has ever had to begin a season. Ultimately, the Bulldogs hit the 10-win mark behind a uniquely blended starting 11. A group of nine seniors set the tone and helped mentor a talented freshman class that became a major part of the present and the future.

Head Coach Thomas Goines believes the ’22 campaign can be one that lays a foundation for future Concordia teams to return to GPAC title contention. That’s the standard that has been set in place by recent Bulldog sides.

“There were a lot of good moments this season,” Goines said. “Any time you win 10 games, it’s a pretty good year. Certainly the expectation is to challenge for championships. We fell short of that mark, but we had a good year. From the beginning, we knew we had to blend in some of the younger players. We had to figure out how quickly they could contribute and get into the flow with our returning players. That was the exciting part for us. We had some very good returning players with a lot of experience and championship level experience. We started out strong and had a middle of the season where we had to work through some things and figure out who we were going to be. By the end of the year, we were on the right trajectory and playing at a high level.”

The season came to a close on Nov. 2 in the GPAC quarterfinals when a gritty Concordia team gave eventual national qualifier Briar Cliff all it could handle. A late Niah Kirchner goal forced overtime before the Chargers eventually prevailed. The final overall record for the Bulldogs stood at 10-6-2. As part of the journey, Concordia raised some eyebrows when it started 6-0-2 with a victory at then 25th-ranked Benedictine College (Kan.), a perennially strong program that the Bulldogs had never beaten.

Upon returning to Seward on the evening of Sept. 10 after it defeated Benedictine, Concordia rang the bell, signaling that this was a team capable of making noise. The Bulldogs also hung right with two other GPAC national qualifiers in 1-0 losses to both Hastings and Jamestown. With Grace Soenksen again playing at a First Team All-GPAC level at center back, Concordia retained an identity as a blue-collar outfit that was tough to crack on its defensive half.

“That was a great moment (at Benedictine), and you could tell our alumni were stoked that we pulled something off the program hadn’t previously done,” Goines said. “At the end of the day, it was a fun game and showed the potential of our team. We went into a place that’s hard to win at. It was a really cool experience for the girls to have. I think it fed into the season as we played other high-quality teams. We let one match against Briar Cliff get away from us, but we came back and took them to overtime (in the GPAC tournament). We weren’t far off the mark. We were competitive against good teams but found ourselves on the wrong side of some 1-0 games. The season as a whole is one they can be proud of.”

In that final game of the season, the starting 11 included six seniors and five freshmen. That dynamic was a theme that played out over the course of the 2022 season. The senior starting group was made up of Aliyah Aldama, Allee Downing, Ellie Eason, Lisa McClain, Soenksen and Kalie Ward. There were also contributions made by Caitlin Davis, Lina Kirst and Kadyn Lane. The way they helped lead the freshmen along will have an impact on what happens in 2023 and beyond. Each of those seniors were part of the GPAC tournament championship run in 2020.

An intriguing story, Ward (aka “Rocket”) became a two-year starting keeper all while fulfilling military duties. A rock her entire career, the Sioux City, Iowa, native Downing played in all 72 Concordia games over the past four seasons. At center back, Soenksen became just the second player in program history to earn three First Team All-GPAC awards (joining Maria Deeter). She was the fifth Soenksen sibling to play soccer for the Bulldogs. Lastly, Eason picked up Honorable Mention All-GPAC accolades in 2022 and tallied four goals. Said Goines, “The seniors gave a lot to our freshmen as far as experience, knowledge and emotional strength to get through a tough conference.”

The freshman class supplied a sorely needed supply of offensive firepower. Named Second Team All-GPAC, Kearney High School product Kierstynn Garner burst onto the scene while displaying her speed and athleticism. Garner led the team with eight goals, including five game winners. Other freshmen that contributed offensively were Savannah Andrews (four goals), Kirchner (three goals, four assists) and Elena Ruiz (three goals, one assist). On the back line, Hannah Kile stepped in when Taylor Slaymaker went down with an injury. Additionally, Shi-Lynn Yon started 15 games.

Many of those names will be the backbone of the ’23 squad. Said Goines, “I’m very excited for what the next few years look like for this program. I’m excited about the incoming class and some of the players we are talking to. Then if you look at the players we’re returning in this program, we return a large percentage of our goal scoring and midfield play. We’re going to be heavy on sophomores and juniors next year and have a good core group. We should be able to find consistency day-in and day-out.”

A prolific goal scorer during her high school career, Garner has the potential to become one of the very best strikers in the GPAC. “To be our leading scorer and get all-conference recognition as a freshman is a big deal,” Goines said. “She’s only scratching the surface. Not only is she a good athlete and goal scorer, she’s a really good person and a good teammate. She’s a humble person. I’m excited to see how she grows and continues on. She always wants more and wants the team to achieve more. It’ll be fun to watch the next three years and just how far she can take it.”

As Garner does her thing up top, Goines will happily welcome Slaymaker back into the mix as she continues to rehab and make her way back for 2023. Concordia will have a new keeper next season and will say goodbye to a wealth of experienced veterans. However, the Bulldogs know they have talent. Colorado Springs native Hannah Haas will be the team’s most experienced senior on the ’23 roster. The spring semester will help to define new leaders and form a new identity.

Said Goines, “We open up five or six spots that were filled by those graduating seniors. You don’t just replace them. We’ll continue to develop the current players. It’s their turn to show they can play at that level – or beyond. Our spring is going to be finding those vocal leaders, those lead-by-example players and the ‘team mom.’ Going forward, this group has to create its own identity. I’m excited to see where it goes.”