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Spring Update: leadership group reshaped as Downing, Soenksen take on captain roles

By Jacob Knabel on Jun. 6, 2022 in Women's Soccer

The re-shaping of an identity for the 2022 season began in earnest this spring as the Concordia University Women’s Soccer team moved on without an ultra-experienced senior class. On the plus side, Head Coach Thomas Goines knows this group can build around well-respected two-year starters Allee Downing and Grace Soenksen. Those two Bulldogs happened to be elected captains this spring, which featured scrimmages with the likes of NCAA Division II University of Nebraska-Kearney, College of Saint Mary Doane, Nebraska Wesleyan, Southeast Community College and a group of alumni.

Goines’ squad got back to the practice fields after posting a 9-7-2 overall record this past season. For a change, Concordia was able to focus on individual skill development and team chemistry without the pressure of regular season games.

“We asked the girls how many had gone through a traditional spring season and only one of them raised their hand,” Goines said. “The last year-and-a-half we’ve basically been game-planning for the next game during every training session. It was nice to allow everyone to focus on development and improvement and getting the team dynamic where we want it to be. It was a breath of fresh air. We could just play soccer without the weight of trying to win a GPAC championship. They could just go out with the emphasis on getting better and enjoying themselves. It was a really cool thing to be a part of.”

The aim for this squad is to build upon the gritty defensive performances that were characteristic of the ’21 team – and then find more ways to put the ball in the back of the net. The spring was just a start in terms of ironing out the midfield and becoming more dangerous in the attacking third. As noted by Goines, the program lost a slew of veteran midfielders with Michaela Twito (97), Mikeila Martinez (72) and Madeline Haugen (71) each having played more than 70 career games as Bulldogs. As for the team’s options at striker, that dynamic will continue to evolve into August training.

The spring helped reinforce the strength of the back line, which is fortified by Downing and Soenksen. The latter is a two-time First Team All-GPAC award winner. Concordia also has a returning starter at keeper in the form of Kalie “Rocket” Ward, who emerged as a great story in 2021. She rejoined the team last fall after going through basic training.

Said Goines, “We lost a good portion of the midfield and a lot of girls who have been part of championship teams. It’s hard to replace that. We’re very happy with the strong group of seniors that we have for next year. They’ve all been through it and been through conference championships. We’ve seen fantastic growth in our leadership group. Our two captains were selected by the team and that’s Grace and Allee. They’ve really stepped up into leadership roles. The girls have responded well.”

Other returners who started in the GPAC tournament last season were Aliyah Aldama, Caitlin Davis, Ellie Eason, Lisa McClain and Taylor Slaymaker. They will again vie for playing time this fall for a program that won a GPAC tournament title as recently as the spring of 2021. Part of the championship formula has included the Bulldogs’ ability to limit the opposition’s attack (20 goals allowed in 2021).

Another spring storyline involved the sendoff of assistant coach Chris Luther, who completed his tenure at Concordia as both a coach and professor this past May. Luther had been a bridge from the previous head coach and was known for his energetic and upbeat style. Luther continued to assistant the team this spring before saying goodbye.

“He’s a fantastic man,” said Goines of Luther. “He’s been a stable influence on the program. The girls have grown to love and respect him. We had a lot of time together this spring to say goodbye and we’re excited for Coach Luther as he takes on his next step. We know he’s going to be cheering us on from a distance.”

Throughout the spring season, team activities also included rock climbing at MW Climbing in Lincoln, a sendoff meal with Coach Luther and the gathering with the alums. The program will also host a camp in late July while getting the community involved. In recent months, Goines has announced some of the team’s incoming recruits via the program’s Instagram account that can be found HERE.

For now, there are still some unknowns as Goines looks ahead to the fall. The program is getting set to welcome 12 newcomers. That crew should help fortify the midfield and add some offensive punch for a program that has been seeking a dependable striker. Based on recent years, Concordia has become confident that it can reload from year-to-year and compete with the very best in the league. A productive summer of collective individual growth would enhance that confidence.

Said Goines, “It’s going to be interesting to see how people vie for positions. Of the offense we produced last year, I think we lose about 90 percent of it. We’re losing four players who have been all-conference midfielders, so that’s the big challenge. I’m looking forward to seeing how the midfield shapes up – and to see our new players. We have 12 new players signed that are excited to come and play. They’re communicating a lot with me. We’ll see how the new players combine with our current group. Having Rocket return in goal and Grace and Allee gives us three all-conference players back in the lineup. That provides us some certainty. I think our back line is something we can rely on. We have a lot of youth coming in on our frontline. We have some strikers coming in eager to show that they can help us put more goals in than what we got last year. I’m excited for what’s coming. I think the most interesting battle will be what comes out of the midfield because of what we lost.”