Photo description: Sophomore Kierstynn Garner battles a Warrior player for possession of the ball
Photo credit: Courtney Wright
If Mike Tyson and Joe Frazier were ever to meet on the soccer pitch, one would have to imagine it would look something like the semifinal bout between Concordia and Midland Tuesday night, where the Warriors outlasted the Bulldogs in a 2-0 defensive slugfest that dealt the knockout blow to end Concordia’s championship aspirations.
The Bulldogs took the field Tuesday night riding a three-game winning streak, not having been defeated in their last seven contests dating back to Oct. 4. The key to Concordia’s success over the undefeated streak, and indeed throughout the season, has been the proficiency of their offense.
Ranking second in the Great Plains Athletic Conference in goals scored (51) and third in assists (31), the tag-team tandem of sophomores Savannah Andrews and Kierstynn Garner in the frontline has been devastating for opposing defenses. Ranking 13th and fifth in GPAC goals this season, the pair have accounted for 31 of the Bulldogs’ 51 goals.
Both Warrior and Bulldog alike were looking to rectify past miscues Tuesday night, as both squads were disappointed in the outcome of their last Sept. 27 meeting in Bulldog stadium.
Ending in a 1-1 tie, both sides left opportunities on the field. The Bulldogs especially felt the sting of the draw as Concordia had far more set pieces than the Warriors, who were receiving national votes at the time. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs were only able to score on one of their nine corner kicks on the night.
The first 35 minutes of the match was scoreless, yet hard fought. Both teams exchanged impressive shots on goal that required exemplary effort by either goalie to keep the game scoreless. Notably, Midland keeper, junior Kyla Pires, deflected two Savannah Andrews line-drives headed toward her with bad intent.
The tie was finally broken with 9:41 left in the first half, much to Concordia’s chagrin. After a prolonged Warrior attack, an opportunity finally presented itself, and Midland took full advantage. Sophomore forward Hannah Schimmer dribbled herself into a perfect passing position. After a well-placed through ball found senior forward Sydney Harren positioned at the top-left of the goal box, a strong right leg found a snug home for the ball in the back of the net. Midland took their 1-0 lead into half.
The second half mirrored the themes from the first half, with stellar defensive performances from both sides of the pitch. Subsequently, the score remained 1-0 until the waning minutes of the game.
With 2:40 left in the contest, Midland was in line to extend their lead. After a shot on goal had been deflected out of bounds, Herren was in position to launch her fifth corner kick of the night, hoping for a different outcome as her four previous attempts had been successfully cleared by the Concordia defense in one way or another.
The Midland forward took a different approach this time around, and lofted the ball above the heads of the Concordia defense – an issue for the Bulldogs as the Warriors held a distinct height advantage. Leaping for the ball and making first contact was sophomore defender Addison Castellanos. The header only constituted Castellanos’ third goal of the season, yet it proved to be the dagger for the Bulldogs.
Statistically, the game seemed to be a one-sided affair. There were five saves on both ends of the pitch on a combined seven shots on goal, only two of which were attributed to the Bulldogs. Concordia also did not enjoy the set-piece advantage they had in the first meeting with the Warriors, as both teams were even at five corners apiece.
“It’s the mentality for me,” said head coach Nick Smith after the heartbreaking loss. “I think, because we are a young team, there are players that are timid at times to go and win the ball and be physical…we need to build the confidence of this group up.”
Coach Smith was not all doom-and-gloom following the game, however, as he emphasized his excitement for the 2024 Concordia Bulldogs.
“I think 47 of the 51 goals we scored this year came from sophomores and freshman; we are a very young team,” Smith said. “We had eight sophomores and one freshman who started for us all season long and we only lose one of the starters we have in Grace (Soenksen), although that is a big hole we’re going to have to fill. But the future of the program is exciting for me. That is one of the reasons why I took this position in March… I am excited about the future. Tonight hurts, but the future of Concordia women’s soccer is bright.”