Another thrilling women’s basketball season highlighted the winter months for Concordia athletics. While head coach Drew Olson’s squad swept GPAC regular season and postseason titles for the second year in a row, head coach Matt Beisel’s women’s indoor track team turned in another top 10 national finish led by shot put national champion Samantha Liermann. With spring sports underway, the Bulldogs are currently fourth in the GPAC all-sports trophy standings with 92.5 points. The women’s soccer program also contributed significantly to that total with a GPAC regular-season title in the fall.
Women’s basketball dominates GPAC, makes run to national title game
The 2017-18 Concordia women’s basketball team enjoyed a season much like the one it had the previous campaign. This Bulldog squad took it a step further, making a run to the national championship game while equaling a program record for wins in a season (36-2). The sparkling record is especially remarkable considering the daunting schedule Drew Olson tasked his team with. Outside of conference play, Concordia went on the road and beat three teams ranked in the top eight of the final national regular-season poll: No. 3 College of the Ozarks (Mo.), No. 4 Saint Xavier (Ill.) and No. 8 Jamestown (N.D.). Throughout the year, the Bulldogs defeated 17 teams that finished in the national rankings. They also dominated the GPAC, going 23-2 against conference opponents.
The only downer was the rough 82-59 national championship game loss to Dakota Wesleyan, a foe Concordia had knocked off three times before that matchup. Said Olson afterwards, “We’re really disappointed and it really hurts right now. But I know in a month, two months, whatever it’s going to be, that we’ll realize what an amazing season it was.” As a result of that season, Olson was honored as the 2018 United States Marine Corps/WBCA NAIA National Coach of the Year.
Liermann collects second career national title
The track and field programs graduated an incredible group of throwers this past May, but it continues to possess an elite women’s shot put group headlined by junior Samantha Liermann. The native of Wisner, Neb., recorded the second shot put national title of her career with a school record toss of 49’ 5.” Liermann also placed fifth in the weight throw while totaling 14 team points all by herself. Liermann is now a two-time national champion and five-time All-American in the shot put. As part of her impressive career, Liermann was a member of the 2016 outdoor track and field team that captured the school’s first-ever team national title in any sport.
Lammers becomes seventh first team All-American in program history
In the mind of her head coach, Philly Lammers is the top player in all of NAIA Division II women’s basketball. Following the national championships, Lammers was named a first team All-American. She became the seventh player in program history to land on the first team. This past season, Lammers averaged 13.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. She also picked up NAIA first team all-national tournament honors after averaging 18.0 points and 9.8 rebounds over the team’s five-game run at the national championships. Junior Quinn Wragge was tabbed a third team All-American.
Castillo saves best for GPAC, national tournaments
Though injuries sidelined him for parts of his senior season, Giovanni Castillo wrestled his best when the stakes were highest. The native of Ontario, Calif., had competed in only 12 matches all season prior to the GPAC championships. He then won three matches, including the last one by pin to lock up a 133-pound conference title. He then went on to place fifth at the national championships in Des Moines, Iowa, putting himself on the All-America medal stand. His run at the national tournament included two wins over Grand View’s (Iowa) Trevor Murano, who placed sixth. Castillo is the ninth wrestling in program history to claim at least one All-America award.
Sophomores take flight for men’s basketball
Led by a deep sophomore class, the 2017-18 men’s basketball team jumped out to a 12-3 start that surprised many outsiders. Head coach Ben Limback’s squad wound up placing sixth in the GPAC after being picked eighth in the preseason poll. The strong start had the Bulldogs knocking on the door of the top 25 rankings before they fell back in the second half of the season. Despite having another season end in the GPAC quarterfinals, Concordia showed growth behind that sophomore group headed by point guard Jake Hornick and post Clay Reimers. Role players as freshmen, both players earned second team all-conference accolades this season.
Johnson rises to occasion at conference championships
Senior Scott Johnson put together a memorable final GPAC indoor meet of his career. The native of Kansas City, Kan., had already qualified for the national championships in the triple jump, Johnson eyed his first career GPAC title. He accomplished that feat on his final jump, achieving a career high of 47’ 2 ½” in the triple. He also placed fourth in the long jump while leading the men’s team in scoring at the conference championships.
2017-18 record: 17-13 overall; 8-10 GPAC (6th)
Top performer: Clay Reimers took on a starring role as a sophomore and flourished. He led all GPAC players during the regular season in rebounding (8.6) and double-doubles (10). He also sported conference ranks of second in blocks per game (1.31), second in field goal percentage (.609) and 11th in scoring (15.6). He was named the NAIA Division II National Player of the Week after back-to-back 26-point games in late December.
Season highlights: The Bulldogs were sitting pretty on Jan. 3 after Cordell Gillingham’s buzzer beater lifted them to an overtime win at Doane. Concordia stood at 12-3 overall and at 5-2 in conference play. Concordia slipped down the stretch while facing the most challenging stretch of its schedule. The Bulldogs ended their season with a 107-87 loss at Northwestern in the GPAC quarterfinals. The biggest positives were the rise of the sophomore class, which featured four all-conference players. Jake Hornick adapted to the point guard role and Clay Reimers became a star in the post.
GPAC all-conference: Jake Hornick (second team); Clay Reimers (second team); Cordell Gillingham (honorable mention); Tanner Shuck (honorable mention).
Thoughts from Coach Ben Limback: Outside of our locker room there was not much expectation but inside our locker room there was a lot of hunger. That drove a lot of guys. A lot of them stuck around this past summer. That investment paid off for guys like Kyle Pierce and Cordell Gillingham. Those guys stood out for their improvement. We didn’t have a lot of starters back but I think that fed our motivation to work harder … Sometimes you get over confident and sometimes you’re not confident enough. I think that’s a tough balance with a young group. We got off to a great start and then we hit a tougher part of our schedule. We lost three in a row and at that point there were some confidence issues shooting-wise. That’s part of some of the youth we had. I felt like we didn’t have enough consistent play from our top guys and the shots weren’t falling. It was a combination of things (that led to second half struggles) … If you would have said we would go into that final week with a chance to host a GPAC playoff game that would have been pretty exciting. This group is ready for more. We want to take it the next step.
2017-18 record: 36-2 overall; 19-1 GPAC (1st); GPAC postseason champions; national runner up
Top performer: Philly Lammers rose from second team All-America to first team status this season as the most dominant force on Concordia’s national runner up team. She was especially good in the postseason while leading the Bulldogs to a GPAC tournament title and to four wins at the national championships. Lammers was also a first team All-GPAC choice and was selected by CoSIDA as an Academic All-American and as a first team all-national tournament member. Quinn Wragge garnered third team All-America accolades and joined Lammers on the conference’s first team.
Season highlights: Many additions were made to the trophy case with the Bulldogs winning GPAC regular-season and postseason titles and a CIT championship before finishing as the runner up at the national championships. Concordia put together the third longest winning streak in school history during a 24-0 run to begin the season. The Bulldogs won 17 games over teams that finished the season ranked in the nation’s top 25. Along the way, five different players reached the 1,000-point mark: Quinn Wragge (1,380), Mary Janovich (1,159), Dani Hoppes (1,148), Brenleigh Daum (1,014) and Lammers (1,014). Additionally, Drew Olson became the second basketball coach, including the men’s program, in school history to surpass 300 career wins.
GPAC all-conference: Drew Olson (coach of the year); Philly Lammers (first team); Quinn Wragge (first team); Dani Hoppes (second team); Mary Janovich (second team); Taylor Cockerill (honorable mention); Brenleigh Daum (honorable mention).
NAIA All-Americans: Philly Lammers (first team); Quinn Wragge (third team); Drew Olson (WBCA NAIA National Coach of the Year).
Thoughts from Coach Drew Olson: It hurts (to lose the championship game). It’s frustrating to have one of the greatest seasons of all-time to end on that kind of note. I feel really bad for our kids that they didn’t get what I feel like they deserved. They worked so hard. You go through such a long and grueling season, especially with the schedule we put them through. They handled everything perfectly all the way up until the final game. I hope in a month or whatever it’s going to be, they’ll realize what an amazing season we had. I still feel proud of the accomplishments that we had … It was impressive to beat that many ranked teams and the way we won on the road. Those were just unbelievable games. I just can’t imagine another team has had so many close games against great teams and still found ways to pull out the win. It was a team of great character that worked hard and pushed each other. They sacrificed for each other and loved being teammates with each other. I think that’s what made them really special.
Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field
2018 men’s GPAC finish: T-4th
2018 men’s national finish: T-42nd
2018 women’s GPAC finish: 5th
2018 women’s national finish: 9th
Top performers: Samantha Liermann separated herself as the clear No. 1 performer for the program during the 2018 indoor season. She swept titles in the shot put at the GPAC and national levels while excelling at a consistently elite level from meet to meet. She was instrumental in the team’s ninth-place national championships finish. She tallied 14 team points alone with her first-place claim in the shot put and fifth-place finish in the weight throw. Liermann’s toss of nearly 50 feet at the national championship broke the school’s indoor shot put record.
Season highlights: Liermann provided the biggest highlights from an individual perspective. She was the leader of a women’s shot put group that included All-Americans Adrianna Shaw (third) and Johanna Ragland (seventh). On the men’s side, Scott Johnson highlighted the conference meet with a GPAC title in the triple jump. Jacob Cornelio (weight throw) and Cody Williams (heptathlon) both earned their first career All-America awards at the indoor championships.
GPAC all-conference: See the full list HERE.
NAIA All-Americans: Jacob Cornelio (weight throw; 7th); Samantha Liermann (shot put; 1st, weight throw; 5th); Johanna Ragland (shot put; 7th); Adrianna Shaw (shot put; 3rd); Cody Williams (heptathlon; 7th).
Thoughts from Coach Matt Beisel: We had a lot of great performances both at conference and indoor nationals. We did have some disappointments. With some of the those kids, we’re going to be helping them figure out how to get better. Almost all of our (2018 indoor) All-Americans were top eight with fantastic personal best performances … You had Samantha come back and set a school record in the shot put and win it. Then we had some under-the-radar stuff where they didn’t score for us but had gigantic performance improvements. I’m really pleased with how our kids handled it. Across the board, we had good things happen … The fact that we’re redshirting a lot of kids that are going to be heavy hitters provides a good outlook for next year but outdoor this season will be huge for our throwers. We should definitely place higher at conference (in outdoor). With those new events added in there we should put additional points on the board and place higher. I think we can shoot for a top-three position for sure on both sides.
2017-18 record: 8-8 overall; 5-3 GPAC
GPAC finishes: 5th in duals; 4th in tournament
NAIA national finish: 22nd
Top performer: Five Bulldogs collected more than 20 wins, but senior Giovanni Castillo emerged as the team’s biggest star. Castillo turned it on at the right time. A return to health helped him win the 133-pound GPAC title and place fifth at the national championships. Castillo went 15-6 with just three of his defeats coming against NAIA opponents. He became the ninth wrestler in program to earn All-America accolades.
Season highlights: Castillo’s late season run takes the cake, but there were many memorable moments produced by Concordia individuals. A backup for his first three collegiate seasons, Jerry Stepps III went a perfect 8-0 in GPAC duals and came up just short of qualifying for the national championships at 125 pounds. Deandre Chery (174) joined Castillo as a GPAC champion and national qualifier. Chris Kimball (149) also earned an automatic berth to nationals via his performance at the GPAC championships. Concordia placed fifth in the GPAC dual standings, but was just one win shy of tying for second.
GPAC all-conference: Giovanni Castillo (first team); Jerry Stepps III (first team); Deandre Chery (second team); Josh Nelsen (second team); Cam Devers (honorable mention); Walker Fisher (honorable mention).
NAIA All-American: Giovanni Castillo (133; 5th).
Thoughts from Coach Andrew Nicola: The effort of the guys on the roster was never in question. We have to make sure we’re putting the right guys at the right weight classes. We had a lot of guys wrestling around weights that aren’t their natural weights to compete in, more or less taking one for the team. I think we trained the guys right. We have to continue to make sure we’re staying on top of the recruiting game … I think people are excited. We started lifting that Monday we got back from spring break. We have an incredible group of guys, some that are going to be sophomores and some like Gabe Crawford coming off his redshirt. We’re getting guys like Cody Lambert and Walker Fisher healthy. We have some talented guys returning and we have some talented guys coming in … Gio(vanni) Castillo got his academics on point and had his best semester in four years of college. Then he had the concussion. For him to be an inch away from the national finals showed he was resilient.
Cheer GPAC finish: 4th of 7
Cheer regional finish: 9th of 9
Dance GPAC finish: 8th of 9
Dance regional finish: 9th of 10
Summary: Now in her second season, head coach Mandi Maser continues to build up cheer and dance programs that are still young in terms of being recognized as official varsity sports. The Bulldogs began their competition schedules with a home event on Jan. 20. Their seasons then finished at the NAIA North Qualifier hosted by Morningside. At the GPAC championships, Concordia cheer placed fourth out of seven teams while dance finished eighth out of nine squads. At the regional event, the Bulldogs placed ninth in both competitions. Maser’s teams also took part in the Concordia Invitational hosted by Concordia University, Wisconsin. The Bulldogs placed second out of four Concordias in cheer and fourth in dance. The captains this season were junior Kennedy Garner and senior Kathie Nguyen for cheer and junior Neleigh Lehr for dance.