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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Defense, depth, possession remain Concordia University squad's cornerstones

COURTESY: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Senior defender Martha Heaps helps lead a Concordia University womens soccer team that hopes to land the school's first NCAA Division II postseason berth.At first, the words used to describe the 2017 Concordia University women's soccer team seem a contradiction.

"Young, but experienced" is the best description of the Cavaliers, according to coach Grant Landy.

It applies to a squad with only two seniors in prominent roles. And it applies to a program that is shooting for postseason play for the first time at the NCAA Division II level.

Not much has changed in Landry's approach since Concordia made the jump from NAIA. Defense, depth and possession soccer remain cornerstones for a program that made 18 NAIA national tournaments and played four times for a national title — winning it in 2013.

The Cavaliers have played in the D-II Great Northwest Athletic Conference since 2015, but this is the first season they are eligible for postseason. From the previous two seasons, they understand the line between success and failure is thin.

"It's one or two moments in these games that are going to win them," senior defender Martha Heaps says. "So having to really battle a full 90 both mentally and physically in this conference is what puts you ahead of the other teams."

The Cavaliers — who kick off the season by playing host to San Francisco State at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Chico State at 11 a.m. Saturday — have plenty of motivation. Concordia will play host to the GNAC tournament and wants to be one of the four teams playing in it.

Landy, in his 21st season coaching Concordia women's soccer, says the move to Division II has been a fun challenge.

"It's kind of reenergized our group and reenergized our coaching staff," he says. "The GNAC is a big challenge. The Division II West region is very competitive. It's forced us to re-evaluate our team. From a recruiting standpoint, it's attracted a different type of athlete, but in some ways similar to the ones we attracted at NAIA — good students and good players."

Landy says D-II teams are deep and talented front to back.

"There's no gimmies. It's forced our team to  be more mindful of all the little things that go into being successful in a game," he says.

Concordia has posted a 13-6-5 record against GNAC foes the past two seasons, so the Cavs are not out of their league.

"We always played a really difficult nonconference schedule when we were in NAIA. I think that's part of the reason why we've been able to find pretty good footing in this conference," Landy says.

A strong core of juniors and sophomores has Landy believing the team is in position to find success.

But the foundation will be a back line led by seniors Heaps and Ana Delgadillo, who was all-GNAC as a junior. Junior McKenna Stocker also started every game on defense last season.

The Cavs have plenty of experience up the field, too.

"We have a lot of depth this year. That's really exciting," Heaps says. "For the coaches, it's 'I don't know who to put on the field' because everybody is at such a high-caliber level. So it's really about finding combinations of people that work well."   

Junior forward/midfielder Gabrielle Ewing led the Cavs with four goals and three assists last season, when 14 players scored at least one of the team's 29 goals.

Sophomore forward Kyra Radcliffe had three goals and three assists last season. Sophomore Quinn Williams had three goals and an assist as a freshman. Sophomore Alaina Edgerly had two goals last season.

Junior forward Sydney Van Steenberge started 25 matches over her first two seasons at Concordia, scoring six career goals. Junior forward Maddie Misi, who started her career at Oregon State, had a goal and two assists last season.

Forward Megan Myers redshirted last season after starting her career at Portland State.

Among the juniors who saw a lot of action last season are midfielders Kayla Braunthal, Kasey Ames and Karlie Hurley, a forward/midfielder. Braunthal tied for the team lead with four goals, and Ames scored three last season.

Sophomore midfielder Michaela Prothe played in every match last season off the bench.

The goalkeepers are sophomores. Anna Miller played five matches last season. Shannon Peth is a transfer from Portland State who did not see action for the Vikings.

"I think this year and next year, when you look at the personnel, could be pretty exciting years for us," Landy says.

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