Golden Eagles women’s soccer team advanced further than ever before, to the NCAA DII West Regional Final in Washington state, concluding its season with a 14-5-2 overall record.
“We did things no Concordia team has done in the NCAA era,” says longtime head coach Chris Gould ’06, MBA ’08, referring to a sweep of Point Loma and a tie on the toughest opponent’s home turf in Western Washington. “Those are mile markers for us.”
Concordia’s team plays an unusual system built around possession and technical skill rather than the athletic abilities of a few key players. This forces stronger teamwork and self-discipline — and can invite doubt when things aren’t going well. Such a moment came with an early-season loss at Fresno Pacific, which Gould calls “the biggest gut-check of the team’s character this year.”
“[The loss] could have pulled apart the fabric of what we’d built, but as disappointed as they were, they galvanized and used it ultimately for a positive,” he says. “That’s the story of this team: every adversity or perceived failure has been followed up by an amazing triumph — and doing it with a team-first approach.”
Layla Comeaux, a behavioral sciences major who brings the ball upfield in the team’s four-diamond-two formation, says “grit and sacrifice” defined the season. “We sacrificed our time and what we wanted to do for what was right for the team, and got a great result out of it,” she says.
"We did things no Concordia team has done in the NCAA era."
Comeaux says the team prefers to play through the midfield, where they are typically numbers-up, and keep possession rather than kick and run. “We like to keep teams running,” she says. “Other teams play a 4-3-3, leaving them weaker in the middle against a formation like ours.”
The system proved itself in the team’s first major success, tying Western Washington, a frequent NCAA playoff team, on their home field.
“That tie was a big test to see if we could hang with teams of that caliber,” says Analisa Gjonovich, a four- year midfielder, team captain, and student athlete advisory council president. “To come back from being down 0-1 proved that we could rise to the occasion.”
The Golden Eagles flew into post-season, beating teams that were fighting hard for playoff spots. A strong motivator was how narrowly the team has missed making the tournament for the past three years.
“We’ve been really close, and the seniors and older players had a conviction and commitment to do it this year,” says Gould. “This group was pretty exceptional. They knew this would be a big year for them.”
Things came to a climax at the NCAA DII Regional in Hilo, Hawaii, where the Golden Eagles faced two teams they’d lost to earlier in the season. First, they dispatched with CSU Los Angeles, then played a wild one against the host team and #1 seed.
“We went down a goal and something flipped in us, like now we have nothing to lose, we might as well go hard,” Comeaux says. “We hit another gear and started playing our game and having fun.”
The girls scored to tie it up, then Comeaux intercepted a ball, found a forward on the run, and served it to her for a shot on goal with her left foot.
“It went in like a movie. It was incredible,” Comeaux says. “We were so excited. The crowd [of more than 600] went completely silent and we won.”
Then it was back to Washington state for the regional final, a rematch the Golden Eagles lost to a well- coached Western Washington team, which went on to win the national title.
But for coach and players, the entire year was a win.
“We have a lot of incredible life things to take away from this season,” says Gould. “Overcoming adversity. Having confidence in the talents and abilities God has gifted you with. Staying true to yourself to have the best opportunity to be successful. Later in life, when that really tough, important moment comes up, these girls know they have the ability to stand up, be responsible in a difficult situation, and lead. That’s the value of what we do.”
Gjonovich, who led team Bible studies and devotionals, says off-the-field relationships added an extra dimension to this year’s accomplishments.
“My faith is very important to me and because of that I wanted to share my love for Jesus with my team,” she says. “I found that soccer was a way to both show that through my play and also off the field. Having conversations with the girls, talking about our personal lives — that ties to our success. How tight-knit we were off the field translated to on the field.”
Comeaux agrees: “Team chemistry is the biggest thing. This year the team felt like a family. Each girl played for one another and we enjoyed it.”
Twenty of the 25 players will return next year to see if they can advance even further.