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Cavs' reloading act comes as foes aim to topple NAIA champs

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY - Forward Erin Huisingh (right), a third-team All-American, is among the handful of returning starters from Concordia Universitys 2013 NAIA championship womens soccer team.Last season was the perfect storm for the Concordia University women’s soccer team. The side was dominant, caught a few breaks in the national tournament and finished the year 22-1-1, raising the NAIA championship trophy.

“We had a deep team,” Cavaliers coach Grant Landy says. “We had a lot of pieces we could interchange from game to game.”

The title was the school’s first in four trips to the NAIA finals.

“The challenge when you get to the national tournament is playing a lot of games in a small amount of time. We just kept building every game we played,” Landy says.

Concordia outscored its postseason foes 15-1, riding the nation’s top-rated defense, which gave up only seven goals (0.29 per game) for the season.

“You’ve got to have some good fortune, too,” Landy says. “We had things come together at the right time, but we also had things break our way.”

Concordia has lost a handful of starters from that breakthrough squad, but the Cavaliers still entered the 2014 season as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.

The Northeast Portland team opened last week, winning two close games in Medford — 1-0 against Marymount California University and 3-2 against 18th-ranked The Master’s College, another California school.

That gives CU a 20-match winning streak, dating to last season, going into this week’s home debut games — 4 p.m. Friday versus Saint Martin’s University and 1 p.m. Sunday against Rocky Mountain College (Billings, Mont.).

The school’s all-time record for consecutive wins is 22, set in 2002 and matched in 2008.

“We have a lot of returners from last year, and some good freshmen we’ve brought in,” Landy says. “But there’s some added pressure when you win the national tournament that these girls are going to have to deal with all season.”

Landy, in his 18th year at the helm, says he is confident that he will find players to plug the holes left by departed seniors.

“Something I’ve always felt proud of during my tenure at Concordia University is we’ve had good development of the players as they’ve gotten older,” he says. “The sophomores and juniors and seniors are stepping more into their responsibility. We’re just trying to get better and let the pieces fall where they may.”

The Cavaliers will be young in goal, with sophomore Olivia Brock and junior Nicole Franklin vying for the starting position, and sophomore Kiaya Paulsen also available.

“It’s very similar to last year,” Landy says. “We’re still very young in goal. We have two sophomores and a junior, and they have started off on a better plane than they did last year, when we had two freshmen and a sophomore.”

Brock made three saves and four stops against The Master’s, lifting her career record to 16-0-1, but Landy says it’s too early to say who will be the regular starter.

“Olivia, who played half the time during the regular season and most of the national tournament, is probably the early (favorite),” he says. “But Nicole has some experience and leadership potential. It’s probably going to come down to those two battling it out.”

The back line also is young, but not as young as it was last season. Senior Jasmin Ayala, the national tournament MVP last season, is the group’s leader. Another senior, Becca Long, was named CCC defensive player of the week for the first week of 2014.

“There’s more experience,” Landy says. “But they’re still young. They’re still developing. Defensively, it’s similar to last year in that we have a lot of different pieces and some good depth. What we’re trying to do is put different players back there and see what our best combination is.”

Junior McKayla Madison and sophomore Bobbi Eckler head up the midfield.

“When we’re all healthy, our midfield is really good,” Landy says. “We’re really young there, but I like that group once it all comes together.”

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY - Jasmin Ayala (left) is back to help the Concordia Cavaliers try to sustain last years remarkable defensive play.It’s on the attack where the Cavs are the most experienced. Senior Ashley Ames, who led Concordia with 12 goals last season, and senior Erin Huisingh, who was a third-team All-American, are the featured players.

Huisingh broke a scoreless tie in the season opener with her 86th minute goal, off a feed from senior forward Annika Hayman. Ames scored the winning goal against The Master’s in the 84th minute.

“The attacking group is older,” Landy says. “Four of our six seniors are attacking players. We’ve got some good pace. We have goal scorers from a year ago. That group will shine.”

While Concordia’s ultimate goal is to duplicate the success of last year, Landy says the Cavaliers need to focus on building the new year’s team and letting things fall into place.

“We have to enjoy the process and just sort of build our team,” he says. “This team is completely different, even though we have a lot of players from last year. We have new leadership.”

Concordia is the unanimous pick to defend its Cascade Collegiate Conference championship. The Cavs received all 10 first-place votes and a perfect 100 points in the preseason coaches poll. Northwest University (85 points), Corban University (81) and Southern Oregon University (73) were 2-4 in the poll.

Concordia’s first CCC match is Sept. 25 at Northwest Christian.

Before that, though, comes a showdown Sept. 12 in Santa Barbara, Calif., with host Westmont College, the No. 2-ranked team that lost 1-0 to the Cavs in last year’s NAIA finals.

And the Cavaliers will play two other highly ranked teams, No. 23 Vanguard University and No. 5 Concordia of California, in their Holiday Inn Classic, Sept. 5 and 7, respectively, at CU’s Tuominen Yard.

So, worrying now about the national playoffs, would be counterproductive.

“When you start thinking too far in advance, that’s when things can catch up to you,” Landy says. “The expectation is that we compete in conference again and get to nationals, and if you get there, you never know what’s going to happen.”

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