The Concordia (Wis.) women’s hockey program has gone through the growing pains of a young program.
In their first varsity season in 2007-2008, the Falcons went the whole season without a win. Fast forward to the present, Concordia is having its best season yet and currently sits in third place in the always-competitive NCHA conference with an 11-8-2 overall and 9-5-2 league record.
“We had goals going in when we started the program four years ago,” Concordia coach Jim Ingman said. “The first year, we wanted to just get through it. The second year we wanted to win 20-30 percent of our games. Last year, we wanted to be around .500, which we were, and this year we wanted to be above .500 at the end of the year and so far, we’ve attained that goal with four games to go.”
Ingman said that steady progression the Falcons have had from zero wins to six wins to nine wins, and then 11 so far this season, is because of two main things.
“It’s a little bit of recruiting stronger players and experience for returners,” Ingman said. “You can win games, but when you get into close games, you’ve got to have seniors to lead the team. I give a lot of credit to our current senior class. When they started as freshmen, there were 18 of them, and we’ve still got 11 from the original recruiting class.
“They stuck through all four years, including a season of no wins, and all 11 are going to graduate in the spring. That’s a testament to their character and shows how hard they have worked over the last four years to improve themselves and the team from a club that couldn’t win a game to one that can win on any given weekend now.”
This season hasn’t been completely roses though for Concordia. The Falcons started the season 0-5 and got outscored by Wisconson-River Falls and Gustavus Adolphus, 22-3, in four games.
“It was just getting them to believe they are a good team,” Ingman said. “After the 0-5 start we had, we were still trying to do too much individually. We had a real heart-to-heart team meeting talked about how we needed to come together and play as a team and then we could beat anybody. It was from that moment on we started winning. It’s really team hockey, we have different players stepping up every game, whether it be putting points on the board or going down to block a shot late in a game.”
In their last 12 games, the Falcons are 9-2-1, with wins over Adrian, St. Norbert, Lake Forest, and Wis.-Superior. Last Friday’s 2-1 win over Superior was the first time the Falcons had beaten the Yellowjackets in program history.
Two key players that have emerged as leaders for Concordia this season have been senior forward Sarah Luberda and sophomore forward Sam Meuwissen.
Luberda leads the team with seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points, while Meuwissen has 11 goals and 11 assists for 21 points.
“Sarah has worn the ‘C’ on her jersey for us for all four years,” Ingman said. “She’s very calm on the ice, has a great set of hands, and her vision is unbelievable. I only wish she would shoot a little more because she’s got a great, accurate shot. She’s a perfect team player.”
Meuwissen’s arrival at Concordia is a little bit ironic, considering originally Ingman was after Sam’s twin sister, Tam.
“Sam was a unique situation because when we get her we were actually recruiting her sister Tam, who plays for Gustavus Adolpus,” Ingman said. “We were recruiting both, but Tam showed more interest in us initially and wanted to come on a visit to campus. Halfway through the tour though, Sam was the one at the front by my side. A week later, she called and said she didn’t know what Tam was doing, but she said she was going to come play at Concordia the next year.”
Meuwissen is tied for the team lead in goals with Alisha Java, with both having 10 tallies on the season.
“She’s just a naturally gifted player and has everything Division I caliber, except for her size,” Ingman said about Meuwissen. “She’s one of the fastest players in D-III and has a top end D-I shot, but she’s just under 5-feet tall. She plays with an edge and will go into corners and dig the puck out, so she compliments Sarah really well.”
In goal, junior Lea Jondal has been the workhorse for the Falcons and has compiled a 9-6-2 record with a 2.23 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.
“Lea is an exceptionally talented goaltender that plays a unique style,” Ingman said. “She’s not your typical butterfly goaltender, and I think that throws a lot of teams off. She can be intimidating as a six-foot-goaltender playing up high.”
This weekend, Concordia will get a stern test as it tries to hold onto third place in the NCHA standings with the Wis.- Eau Claire Blugolds. The Falcons have 20 points and are ahead of Adrian by one point and Eau Claire by two.
“If a team wins this series this weekend, they have a great chance at hosting in the playoffs,” Ingman said. “There are nine teams right now that can make the playoffs, and any one of them could beat any of the other teams on any given day during the week. It makes it fun, makes the hockey exciting, and it keeps you on your guard.”
The Falcons will have their hands full trying to contain All-American Kristin Faber, who has torched Concordia for six goals and four assists against them in her career.
“When we have lost against Eau Claire, it’s been Faber torching us,” Ingman said. “She has something you can’t teach, and that’s a tremendous scoring touch. She’s a great hockey player and has a smell around the net to know when to put the puck in. Taylor Jenkins is a great setup player for them. They have a similar setup to our one-two scoring punch. It’s going to be a lot of mismatch to who can shut down each team’s top line.”