FREMONT, Neb. – A year ago it was Esther Soenksen who clinched a GPAC semifinal upset of Hastings in a penalty kick shootout. Well, Esther’s done it again. On Saturday the product of Lincoln Lutheran High School emerged with the golden goal to sink second-seeded Midland, 1-0, in overtime as part of a GPAC semifinal clash in Fremont, Neb.
For the third-straight season, head coach Greg Henson’s program is headed to the GPAC tournament championship game. Even better, the Bulldogs learned they would host the title contest after top-seeded Hastings was bounced from the tourney by fourth-seeded Morningside.
Concordia now stands at 14-5-2 overall – one win off the program single-season standard set by the 2014 GPAC tournament titlist.
“Credit to our players. We’re playoff tested,” Henson said. “There wasn’t any concern going to overtime in a semifinal game. I thought that helped us, just that experience of being there before. Chrissy (Lind) had another good game for us and another shutout. Our back four (Jeannelle Condame, Kristin Manley, Ashley Martin and Leah Shohat) all did a great job defending. It was a great job all the way around.”
Concordia and Midland (15-5) appeared headed for a second overtime before Soenksen decided enough was enough after just over eight minutes of overtime had elapsed. Freshman Sami Birmingham created the opportunity by playing a cross into the box from right to left. Soenksen corralled it and softly tapped the ball inside the left post to set off yet another postseason celebration.
In a game in which the Warriors outshot the Bulldogs, 23-10, Concordia needed exactly the clutch performance it got from its keeper. Lind has been in goal for every conference tournament game over the past four seasons. On Saturday she collected 12 saves, one of which came just 28 seconds into the overtime period. Lind, a three-time GPAC player of the week this season, notched her 26th career shutout.
The shutout was no easy task while going up against a team that entered the contest ranked 10th nationally in goals per game (3.58). Nayeli Rodriguez totaled 22 goals on the year, but she misfired on all eight of her shot attempts on Saturday. Three of her shots were denied by Lind.
“I thought our back four especially really stepped up and had a good game today,” Henson said. “The wind played a role today. Credit to Midland and what they did in how difficult they made it for us. I thought we had the better end of the play in the first half going with the wind. Second half we really struggled to get out of our end and maintain much possession. The overtime was the same direction, but I thought we came out pretty well and went at them.”
Concordia has become a team that thrives come tourney time. The Bulldogs have taken down top-seeded Hastings in the postseason each of the last two years. The 2014 team, which earned the No. 2 seed in the tournament, celebrated the first GPAC postseason championship in school history.
Soenksen’s heroics snapped Midland’s seven-game win streak while also pushing Concordia’s string of consecutive victories to seven. The Bulldogs have not suffered defeat since being dealt a 3-1 home loss to the Warriors when they met in the regular season on Oct. 12.
Thursday’s championship game inside Bulldog Stadium will take place at 7 p.m. CT. Concordia and Morningside also met in the 2015 GPAC title game that was held in Sioux City, Iowa.