Women’s soccer vies for GPAC title, national tournament berth

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University women’s soccer team will take its turn tonight (Thursday) at braving the cold in its first-ever GPAC tournament championship game appearance. An automatic national tournament berth will be on the line as the Bulldogs (14-2-4) hit the road to take on top-seeded and 20th-ranked Hastings (16-3-1) under the lights at 7 p.m.

Second-year head coach Greg Henson’s squad has plenty of momentum, carrying a 12-game unbeaten streak into the title game tilt. Now Concordia faces its biggest challenge yet, going on the road against the regular-season champion.

“We’re real excited about the opportunity that we have coming up on Thursday and to play in the GPAC championship game,” Henson said after the 2-0 GPAC semifinal win over Dakota Wesleyan. “I think the biggest thing for us is that it’s not enough just to get there. We have our sights set on going and competing and looking to win the championship game.”

Concordia has not lost since a 4-2 defeat at the hands of College of Saint Mary on Sept. 24. Since then, the Bulldogs are 8-0-4 with just five goals allowed (seven shutouts) over that stretch. Included in that run was a 2-1 upset of then No. 16 Hastings in Seward on Oct. 29. The thrilling win marked just the second in program history over the GPAC’s perennially dominant team.

In its GPAC tournament wins, Concordia has gotten a goal in each game from leading goal scorer Jessica Skerston (16 goals) and has allowed only a single 90th-minute score to Doane. Meanwhile, Hastings has recorded 2-0 home victories over both Morningside and Briar Cliff to advance to the championship.

The Bulldogs and Broncos possess stingy defenses and goalkeepers that rank among the top 25 individuals in the NAIA in goals against average. Both teams have recorded exactly 11 shutouts on the season. Offensively, Hastings, behind Taylor Geis (18 goals) and Kelsey Nealon (16 goals), lead the GPAC with an average of 2.85 goals per game. Concordia ranks fourth with 2.0 goals per game.

The Bulldogs lean upon a veteran backline anchored by seniors Rachel Mussell (left center back), Marcie Sindt (right center back) and Katrina Muther (right back). They have helped sophomore goalkeeper Chrissy Lind register a school-record nine shutouts. Their collective efforts held the powerful Hastings attack in check on Oct. 29. Now the question is whether they can do it again.

Either way, it’s been a fun ride for a team that has shattered the previous program record of 11 wins in a season. It also went well-beyond preseason expectations. League coaches had pegged the Bulldogs to finish fifth. Three months later, they’re receiving votes in the NAIA national poll and playing for a conference championship.

“I think we’re all really excited,” Lind said. “Our program’s never gotten this far before.”

Hastings is 10-0 at home this season. Its last home loss came on Sept. 20, 2013, in a 1-0 double overtime setback versus Morningside. On the other hand, Concordia is 6-1-3 on the road with its only defeat being a 4-3 loss at Bellevue University, now ranked 18th in the national poll.

Concordia (14-2-4)
Goals scored per game: 2.0 (4th in GPAC)
Goals allowed per game: 0.75 (3rd)
Individual leaders
Goals: Jessica Skerston – 16
Assists: Melissa Stine – 5
Shots: Jessica Skerston – 81
Shots on goal: Jessica Skerston – 40
Goalkeeper: Chrissy Lind – .745 goals against average, .831 save %, 74 saves, 9 shutouts

Hastings (16-3-1)
Goals scored per game: 2.85 (1st)
Goals allowed per game: 0.70 (2nd)
Individual leaders
Goals: Taylor Geis – 18
Assists: Megan Kruse – 11
Shots: Megan Kruse – 95
Shots on goal: Kelsey Nealon – 46
Goalkeeper: Mallory Taylor – .700 goals against average, .871 save %, 74 saves, 9 shutouts