The spring of 2018 in Bulldog athletics has been characterized by fine individual performances. Members of Concordia’s vaunted throws group, Samantha Liermann and Adrianna Shaw made waves at the NAIA outdoor national championships while Hhana Haro (softball), Nick Little (baseball) and Nolan Zikas (golf) put together seasons that rank among the best ever for their respective programs. From a team perspective, many Bulldog spring squads experienced growing pains with decidedly youthful rosters. As announced on May 6 by the conference, Concordia finished the 2017-18 athletic year at No. 6 in the GPAC All-Sports Trophy Standings with 137 points.
Shaw claims first national title, 14th for Concordia throws since 2014
It would have felt strange for the Concordia University track and field programs to exit a national championship without a title in the throws. The Bulldogs were in danger of being shut out at the NAIA outdoor championships until Shaw broke through on the final day of the meet. Seeded third nationally entering the meet, Shaw popped off the winning toss of 154’ 4” on her first attempt of the finals of the discus competition. The sophomore from Bassett, Neb., celebrated the first national title of her career a year after placing as the national runner up in the shot put at the 2017 NAIA indoor championships. Since the start of 2014, Concordia throwers have combined for 14 individual national titles while under the guidance of throws coach Ed McLaughlin. Samantha Liermann just missed her third career shot put national title, finishing second in the competition on May 25.
Said Shaw after her title on May 26, “I definitely didn’t expect it to happen this early, especially in this event. It’s really special because our throws program is so well-known in the NAIA. To be able to add my name to that list is pretty special.”
Haro pulls in GPAC Player of the Year award as freshman
Head softball coach Todd LaVelle knew he had something special when Garden Grove, Calif., native Hhana Haro arrived at Concordia back in the fall. However, not many would have predicted just how special her freshman season would be. On May 10, the GPAC named Hharo the conference’s player of the year, making her just the second Bulldog in program history to receive the honor. As a rookie, Hharo led the GPAC with a .494 batting average while breaking school single-season records for hits (76) and doubles (20). She also recorded five home runs and 38 RBIs and slugged .747. Said LaVelle, “When we got on the diamond it was pretty obvious what a special player she was. She just has tremendous quick hands. She sees the spin of the ball really well. We knew early on that she was going to be a tremendous hitter.”
Little breaks out, earns GPAC Pitcher of the Year honors
The swift development of a wipeout breaking ball made a huge difference for Nick Little, who went from a quality hurler as a freshman in 2017 to a dominant one in 2018. The result was a GPAC Pitcher of the Year award for Little, who is the only player in Concordia baseball history to garner such an accolade. By the time the dust settled, the sophomore from Lithia, Fla., had equaled or eclipsed school single-season records for innings pitched (91.1), complete games (eight) and wins (nine). Over his 12 starts, Little posted a 2.36 ERA and struck out 90 hitters. Consistently reliable, Little covered at least seven innings in 11 of his outings.
Men’s golf, Zikas break records
The men’s golf program has continued to take steps forward in recent years under the direction of head coach Brett Muller. The 2017-18 squad took it up a notch by breaking the school record for single-season scoring average (306.88) over 16 rounds. Individually, Nolan Zikas broke the single-season record previously held by former teammate Shawn Rodehorst. Zikas paced the Bulldogs this past season with an 18-hole average of 74.69. He also equaled a program standard for a single round by shooting a four-under-par 68 at the Blue River Classic back in the fall. Zikas earned all-conference honors for the third year in a row.
Grove, Liermann, Williams win GPAC outdoor titles
Track and field standouts Taylor Grove, Samantha Liermann and Cody Williams emerged from the 2018 GPAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships with the highlight performances of the meet from a Bulldog perspective. After having missed the cross country season due to injury, Grove bounced back in a big way. She surprised many by galloping to a GPAC championship in the 10,000 meter race in the conference meet that took place on the Morningside campus. Additionally, the reliable Liermann recorded yet another championship in the shot put as part of a stellar junior season. Meanwhile, Williams capped an impressive freshman season by winning the GPAC decathlon title and qualifying for nationals, just as he did during indoor season.
Sears shoots career low, earns NAIA national honor
Murphy Sears made a leap forward in her sophomore season on the golf course. The native of Crete, Neb., is believed to be the first Bulldog in program history to earn an NAIA national golfer of the week award. She received the honor on April 11 on the heels of her career low 73 and tournament title at the CSM/Midland Spring Invite. Sears competed in each of the team’s 14 rounds in 2017-18 and turned in a team best scoring average of 83.36 while placing inside the top 10 at five of nine events. She placed eighth in the GPAC and picked up all-conference accolades.
Smock outlasts opponent, lifts women’s tennis to GPAC semifinals
It was a season of close calls for head coach Joel Reckewey’s women’s tennis squad. Fittingly, Concordia found itself in more barn burners at the conference tournament. In a quarterfinal tilt with Doane, it all came down to No. 6 singles, where junior Kayla Smock went toe-to-toe with Makayla Rice. Smock fell behind 4-1 in the third set before rallying for a dramatic victory that allowed the Bulldogs to edge the Tigers, 5-4. Reckewey’s squad concluded the campaign with a school record 13 wins. Annie Horn, who also picked up a singles victory in the GPAC quarterfinal match, ended her collegiate run with 41 career singles wins.
2018 record: 25-22 overall, 13-13 GPAC (T-6th)
Top performer: Losses were rare whenever sophomore Nick Little took the mound. He went at least seven innings in 11 of his 12 starts and surpassed or equaled program single-season records for innings pitched (91.1), wins (nine) and complete games (eight). He went 9-2 with a 2.36 ERA and ultimately became the first player in school history to be named the GPAC Pitcher of the Year. A consistent force in the lineup, Christian Meza helped pave the way for some of Little’s wins. Meza ended the year with a .405 batting average (second in the GPAC) and joined Little on the first team all-conference list. Meza also posted a .472 on-base percentage and .524 slugging percentage while totaling 14 doubles, 41 RBIs and eight stolen bases.
Season highlights: From a team perspective, there was no more thrilling day than April 22 when Concordia twice beat Doane in walk-off fashion. In game one of the doubleheader, the Bulldogs rallied back after trailing 5-0 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Thomas Sautel (single) and Brandon Cue (bases-loaded walk) were responsible for driving in the winning runs. A pitching staff led by the likes of Little and senior Cade Moring (school record 109 strikeouts) piled up a new program standard of 382 strikeouts as part of one of the GPAC’s top groups of hurlers. The game-to-game consistency of Little and Meza were highlights for a team that struggled after getting out to a 14-7 start. The biggest factor that prevented the Bulldogs from making another GPAC championship run was its defensive woes.
GPAC all-conference: Nick Little (pitcher of the year; first team); Christian Meza (first team); Wade Council (second team); Thomas Sautel (second team); Jake Fosgett (honorable mention); Cade Moring (honorable mention).
Thoughts from Coach Ryan Dupic: At that point (14-7 after 21 games) I think is when we were playing our best baseball. What we saw after that is we had a stretch where we didn’t play very well. We just didn’t respond to that the way that we needed to. We were a little bit younger at certain positions and we had some older guys going through some struggles of their own. We had such high expectations that I think we tried to do a little too much at times. I think one of the things we saw was an inability to respond when things didn’t go so well. Even late in the year we would have a game where we were just unbelievably bad and then we’d have another game where we were fine. I think we showed a lack of maturity or a lack of ability to adjust as time goes. They’re going to have to start to perform or we’re going to find some other guys to do it. You’re not going to see nine new position players or a brand new pitching staff, but there most certainly are players coming in we expect to compete and play for us right away. I think will see that with position players and on the mound. Our goal every year is to create more competition within our program. We didn’t have the depth we needed this year. Every player coming back is going to have to play well. We’re going to need those guys as a foundation.
2017-18 men’s GPAC finish: 5th (288-295-311-308–1,202)
2017-18 women’s GPAC finish: 10th (383-376-377-368–1,504)
Top performers: The clear headliners were Murphy Sears on the women’s side and Nolan Zikas on the men’s side. A native of Crete, Neb., Sears rose to eighth in the GPAC this season. Along the way in 2017-18, Sears earned an NAIA National Golfer of the Week award and topped the team in terms of lowest season average. Her best round was a 73 that allowed her to win the CSM/Midland Invitational on April 5. Meanwhile, Zikas starred for the men while breaking the program single-season scoring average record (74.69). He placed 16th in the GPAC and was chosen as an all-conference selection for the third-straight season. The La Vista, Neb., native equaled a school single-round record back in the fall by shooting a four-under-par 68.
Season highlights: At least in terms of scoring average, the 2017-18 men’s squad is the best in program history. Zikas and company shot a 300 or lower in eight of their 16 rounds and tied a school standard by carding a 288 in the first round of GPAC championship action back in the fall. The Bulldog men tasted victory on April 17 when it finished first amongst a field of 14 teams at the Midland Spring Invitational. Concordia won in a playoff to take home the trophy. Although they did not finish as strong as they hoped, the Bulldogs’ fifth place GPAC finish represented a two-spot improvement over the previous year. Sears and the women enjoyed by far their best round on April 5 at the CSM/Midland Invitational when they carded a 343 and placed third out of 12 teams. Sears was the individual medalist.
GPAC all-conference: Murphy Sears (8th in GPAC); Nolan Zikas (16th in GPAC)
Thoughts from Coach Brett Muller:
On Concordia women
The highlight of the season was Murphy winning her first collegiate tournament shooting a 73 at Miracle Hill in Omaha. For her performance, she was recognized as GPAC Golfer of the week and NAIA National Player of the week, the first in program history. The team scoring was 21 shots better in the spring compared to the fall.
On Concordia men
As a team, the highlight of the season was beating Bellevue on the second playoff hole to win the Midland Spring Invite. For the third year in a row, the team broke the school record for season average (306.88). Nolan Zikas tied the school record for low 18-hole round shooting a four-under-par 68 on day two of the Blue River Classic. Nolan also broke the single season scoring average record at 74.69. Russel Otten finished his career No. 3 all-time in career scoring with an average of 78.06.
2018 record: 21-21 overall, 10-10 GPAC (7th)
Top performer: The choice here is simple. Hhana Haro produced arguably the greatest season ever by a Concordia hitter. She led the GPAC with a .494 batting average and was named the GPAC Player of the Year (second player in school history to earn the award). As part of her remarkable freshman season, the Garden Grove, Calif., native broke program single-season records for hits (76) and doubles (20). She also slugged five homers and drove in 38 runs. Haro had at least two hits in 25 of 42 games. In the team’s wild 19-12, eight-inning win over Saint Xavier (Ill.) at the Tucson Invitational, Haro went 5-for-6 with a double, a triple, two runs and four RBIs.
Season highlights: There were ups and downs for a team that finished exactly .500 overall and in conference play. The aforementioned 19-12 slugfest victory was a memorable one during a season of learning for a youthful roster. Haro was often joined in the lineup by other newcomers such as Kenna Heath, Tori Homolka, Elanna Osthoff, MacKinsey Schmidt and Allysia Thayer. The pitching staff was also very different, featuring freshman Grace Bernhardt and transfer Brittany Woolridge. Bernhardt became head coach Todd LaVelle’s most trusted pitcher. She tossed a four-hit shutout in a win over Briar Cliff. She was especially impressive in GPAC play, posting a 2.54 ERA in her 11 appearances against conference opponents. Some of the lumps taken in 2018 should prove beneficial moving forward for a squad that will be more experienced in 2019.
GPAC all-conference: Hhana Haro (player of the year; first team); MacKinsey Schmidt (first team); Allysia Thayer (honorable menton).
Thoughts from Coach Todd LaVelle: A .500 record is never what we want. We could point fingers and make excuses and do a lot of things you just don’t want to do. There was no doubt we had a lot of new faces on the diamond. Just getting away from it for a few weeks, there have been a lot of things that have become clearer as to why we weren’t more successful. It starts and ends with me. We had some hard lessons and really need to take a hard look at what we need to do to climb back up. I honestly believe we have the talent do that. Some of them were on the diamond and in a collegiate uniform for the first time, but I never looked at it like, ‘Hey, this is a rebuilding year. Even though we lost a lot of key players from last year, I still felt like we had the talent to win. No doubt some of our pitchers had to grow into their roles and we had the injury to Brittany. We still had the same goal every time we took the field and that was to win. We knew that we had a talented freshman class. We also knew right from the start they were going to have to fill some starting roles. It’s going to be exciting. There’s going to be a lot of competition (next year).
2018 men’s record: 8-11 overall, 1-4 GPAC (5th)
2018 women’s record: 13-10 overall, 3-4 GPAC (5th)
Top performers: If judged solely by the lineup order, Annie Horn and Thomas Greeff were the top dogs in the program this past season. Horn went 13-7 overall (5-2 GPAC) as the No. 1 singles player for the women. At one point Horn had pushed her GPAC singles win streak to 10. She finished her collegiate career with 41 singles victories, including one that helped Concordia edge Doane in the GPAC quarterfinals. Greeff finished 9-10 (2-3 GPAC) in singles action. Teammate Luke Zoller got the most recognition in terms of postseason accolades. He was placed on the All-GPAC squad along with partner Jeremy Berryman for his work in doubles. Zoller also grabbed honorable mention all-conference honors in singles.
Season highlights: Both teams finished fifth in the GPAC, but the women’s squad proved capable of competing with anyone in the GPAC. Although they were below .500 in conference play (3-4), Horn and company suffered three GPAC defeats by 5-4 decisions and another by a 6-3 score. The Bulldogs were not far off from advancing to the conference title match. After getting past Doane in a pulse-pounding quarterfinal tilt, Concordia dropped a 5-3 semifinal match to top-seeded Midland. Kayla Smock clinched the GPAC quarterfinal win with a dramatic victory at No. 6 singles. The lone ‘W’ over a GPAC opponent for the men was a 9-0 triumph over Mount Marty. The men should be in position to be more competitive in 2019. They did not have a single senior on the roster.
-MEN – Jeremy Berryman (doubles); Luke Zoller (doubles; singles honorable mention)
-WOMEN – Alison Ebel (singles; honorable mention doubles); Annie Horn (singles); Claudia Miranda Viera (honorable mention singles); Kayla Smock (honorable mention singles/doubles).
Thoughts from Coach Joel Reckewey: Our women’s team keeps getting stronger every year and we keep putting ourselves in positions to advance at the GPAC tournament and to be successful. I really like how we’ve grown as a program. One of these days I think it will come together and we’ll reach the GPAC final and hopefully capture the conference championship. Annie Horn is one of the greatest players we’ve had in this program. She is a natural leader who gets the job done and is a great influence for others on the team. I’m very fortunate to have worked with her. I’m very thankful for what she’s contributed to our program. Our men did not have any seniors so we were a young team. I feel like we were competitive and that we just need to keep learning and growing. Thomas Greeff will be a senior next year. He’s starting to play his best tennis. Also, Lucas Zoller had a winning record and is starting to play his best tennis as well. I’m really looking forward to getting out on the court next season.
Outdoor Track and Field
2018 men’s finishes: 6th in GPAC, T-69th at national championships
2018 women’s finishes: 3rd in GPAC, T-12th at national championships
Men: Jacob Cornelio finished the outdoor campaign as the lone All-American on the men’s side. He bookended his season with top-eight national finishes at both the NAIA indoor and outdoor meets. At the conference championships, he also recorded place finishes of fourth in the hammer throw and eighth in the discus. On a young team, Cody Williams also broke out as a star. The freshman from Imperial, Neb., won the GPAC decathlon title and qualified for the outdoor national championships in the decathlon and the pole vault. Cornelio and Williams figure to be cornerstones of the men’s program in 2019.
Women: While Samantha Liermann came up just shy of a third career shot put national title in a competition that came with controversy, the University of Nebraska transfer is well-established as an elite performer. She won the GPAC shot put title and also placed third in the conference in the hammer throw while piling up 16 team points. She concluded her junior season by placing as the shot put national runner up. Teammate Adrianna Shaw produced the top singular moment of the spring season, claiming a surprise national title in the discus.
Season highlights: Many individual performances are worth mentioning. As stated, Shaw’s national championship reigns supreme among memorable moments. On a rain-soaked field in Gulf Shores, Shaw registered the discus winner on her first attempt in the finals. She was one of five Bulldogs to earn All-America honors this outdoor season. GPAC titles were claimed by Taylor Grove (10,000 meters), Liermann (shot put) and Williams (decathlon). Grove’s terrific outdoor season was particularly rewarding for head coach Matt Beisel, who watched Grove struggle physically and emotionally with an injury that occurred last summer. Not only did Grove win the 10K title, she qualified for nationals in the marathon and completed the 26.2-mile trek with a 17th-place finish. Also at the GPAC championships, Kennedy Mogul (heptathlon 800 meters) and Williams (decathlon 110 hurdles) broke conference meet records. Twenty-six Bulldogs made the trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, where 24 competed in at least one event at the NAIA outdoor championships. Thanks to the efforts of four All-American throwers, the women’s team tied for 12th at the national championships.
GPAC all-conference: View complete list HERE.
NAIA All-Americans: Jacob Cornelio (hammer – 8th); Samantha Liermann (shot put – 2nd); Johanna Ragland (hammer – 8th); Adrianna Shaw (discus – 1st); Carley Skorepa (discus – 5th).
Thoughts from Coach Matt Beisel: On one hand I’m really pleased. You always want to win (the conference title), but I’m never unhappy with a top-three finish. Our women got third and that’s a big improvement from indoor. Our men dropped some points that we shouldn’t have. I think it’s just going to take another year of developing and bringing in some great, new recruits. With that said, there were a lot of great things for both the guys and girls. Overall I’m not unhappy with it (the performances at nationals). We ended up having some amazing things happen. Addie Shaw being the national champion in the discus was phenomenal. They came through in the discus. I really would like to be in that top 10 position. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. We dropped some points early on in the hammer. I think (our recruiting) is immediately going to have an impact at the conference level and the national level. This year our kids have been great, but 50 percent of our team is freshmen. They’re talented but I also think that first year wears on them and they’re learning a lot of stuff … I think some things are going to be different next year. Now we take a break and refocus for the future.