Thrilling season culminates in national tournament opening round

ATCHISON, Kan. – The most successful season in the 19-year history of Concordia University women’s soccer came to a conclusion on Saturday afternoon in the opening round of the 2014 NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championships. No. 9 Benedictine College dealt the 24th-ranked Bulldogs a 4-0 defeat inside the BC Soccer Complex in Atchison, Kan., in Concordia’s first-ever appearance at the national tournament.

Second-year head coach Greg Henson’s squad ends its season with a record of 15-3-4. The 15 wins shattered the former program record of 11 victories for a Bulldog squad that lost for the first time since Sept. 24.

“One game does not define our season,” Henson said. “This loss definitely does not define who we are. The fact that we got here made this a special season. There were tears after the game because of the run we had and what we accomplished. Those should be tears of joy. I don’t think anyone expected us to get to this point. We have nothing to hang our heads about.”

On an unfamiliar stage, the Bulldogs found themselves in a quick hole when Jordan Franceson scored in the seventh minute. For a defensive-minded team like Concordia, the early deficit spelled trouble. Only one other time this season had the Bulldogs surrendered the game’s first goal.

“They settled in quicker,” Henson said. “There were a little bit of jitters in that environment but I don’t think it was a matter of being inexperienced on that stage. Giving up the goal early was a much bigger factor because it changes your tactics.

“Even though we got down 3-0 in the first half, I thought we played with a lot of fight in the second half.”

Ranked 10th nationally in goals per game (3.47) entering play, the powerful Ravens (19-1) struck twice more in the opening 45 minutes, netting goals from Bridget Brotherton and then a second from Francescon. The game’s final tally came in the 86th minute when Maggie Hair found the back of the net off the assist from Bethany Smith to make it a commanding 4-0 Benedictine lead.

The Ravens, whose only loss this season was a 3-2 decision versus GPAC regular-season champion Hastings, dominated possession and outshot the Bulldogs by a count of 29-5. Concordia managed only a single shot on goal.

The complexion of the contest looked like it may swing the other way at roughly the 30-minute mark when senior Ashlie Sklenicka slotted the ball past Raven goalkeeper Ashley Holland. However, offsides was called, negating Concordia’s best scoring opportunity.

“We expected a tough game from a highly-ranked opponent and we got it,” Henson said. “We ran into a really good team that played really well. We needed the ball to bounce our way a few times and that didn’t happen. Benedictine is a good team and I wish them the best in the next round.”

Senior center back Rachel Mussell was the only Bulldog to put up more than a single shot. She also had the lone shot on goal for Concordia. In goal, sophomore Chrissy Lind made seven saves while facing heavy fire throughout the game.

The Ravens have advanced to the second round and will play No. 8 Spring Arbor (19-1-1) in Orange Beach, Ala., on Dec. 1. Benedictine has outscored its opponents by a combined total of 33-2 during its active 11-game winning streak.

The final chapter has now been written for eight Bulldog seniors, who collaborated on a storybook 2014 season.

“This senior class helped raise the bar,” Henson said. “Now we want to continue to push it higher.”