Basketball was an easy choice for Concordia’s sharpshooting senior guard Eli Ziegler. His grandfather Bob Ziegler garnered second team All-Big Eight honors at Iowa State University. His father Mike played at Colorado School of Mines. His older sister Sullivan recently finished playing at Azusa Pacific University. Finally, his younger sister Macy is up next to play college hoops. She’s currently a senior at Arapahoe High School in Colorado.
Says Eli, “I was kind of born into a basketball family. I’ve played my whole life and I love it.”
The native of Littleton, Colo., has never played the game better than he is right now. He’s torching the nets like only few Bulldogs have before him. On the cusp of joining the Bulldog men’s basketball program’s 1,000-point club, Ziegler is knocking down 3-pointers at a rate of nearly 50 percent and he’s on a pace that could having him challenging the school’s single-season record for made 3-point field goals of 113.
Nailing outside shots may be what Ziegler’s most known for on the court, but his game has taken off in many ways. He’s even proven fourth-year head coach Ben Limback wrong (in a good way) in some aspects. A scrawny, but productive 6-foot guard coming out of Heritage High School, Ziegler saw immediate action his freshman year for a program then in a rebuilding phase.
“I’m so proud of him and happy for him,” Limback said. “We walk out of the hotel after our win against St. Thomas (in Miami) and he was complimenting one of our freshmen on how he had played in that game. Here Eli had dropped in five 3’s again and had another great game, but he was the first one to compliment someone else.
“He’s helped this team build a culture and a program. He’s a big part of that turnaround with his competitiveness and his desire to get better every day.”
Eli says that his father Mike has been his biggest influence in regards to basketball. Eli didn’t always like the scrutiny he received, but he says it helped make him better. Mike served as Eli’s coach for a short time during middle school. He still talks with his son often about the game.
“As I grew older I realized how valuable his input was,” Eli said. “Now I enjoy asking him questions after games. Sometimes it’s hard, but I realize how much he knows about the game and how he’s brought me here. I’m thankful for that.”
Though Eli weighed about “150 pounds” as Limback recalls, The Centennial State native more than held his own during his time at Heritage. He led the Eagles to the final 16 of the 48-team bracket at the Class 5A state tournament his senior year. That season he averaged 16.4 points and poured in 52-of-124 (.419) shots from beyond the arc.
Eli was the type of shooter Limback wanted to add to bolster a roster that needed improvement. Eli was recruited by the previous coaching staff and was then locked in after meeting Limback and seeing the facilities Concordia had to offer. Other small schools in California and Minnesota also came calling, but Ziegler saw his best fit at Concordia. He hasn’t looked back.
“There are such good people at Concordia that truly care about you,” Ziegler said. “I’ll have that for the rest of my life. As far as basketball, it’s things like playing in CIT. I’ve gone to other schools like Florida and places anyone would want to live, but they don’t get to play in CIT or meet the people I’ve met at Concordia. Those are the biggest things.”
It’s clear Eli has made himself comfortable at Concordia. His scoring averages have improved every year of his career. In a show of his more aggressive dribble-drive game, he’s already made more free throws this season than he even attempted in any of his first three campaigns as a Bulldog. His average of 18.1 points per game ranks him sixth among all GPAC players.
No longer just a role player who knocks down outside shots, Ziegler has become one of Concordia’s primetime performers along with the likes of post Chandler Folkerts and budding freshman Tanner Shuck.
“He came in maybe 150 pounds,” Limback said of Ziegler. “He had an opportunity to play right away because we were so young. Every day he’s in the gym working on his game. He’s developed his foot speed and his ability to finish at the rim. I never thought he’d be able to finish the way he is now at such a high percentage. I didn’t know if he’d get to this point where he can score consistently at the basket. He’s really dedicated himself to the game and to our team.”
Without a doubt, Ziegler would rather talk about the fact that the team is currently leading all NAIA Division II teams in 3-point percentage (.437) than discuss his own successes. But he’s simply been too good to be ignored. He recently went on a four-game run during which he made at least five 3-point shots in each outing.
Let’s talk about you, Eli.
“I try not to think about that,” Ziegler said. “I have goals going into games for what I’d like to shoot. I’d like to shoot above 50 percent every game. I think everyone needs game goals. This year is so much based off our team as a whole and our playing style on offense. All of our players are so unselfish. It makes it so much easier to get open shots. Everybody is swinging the ball and knows how to play basketball. I’ve never had more fun playing than this year.”
A lover of basketball and a business (marketing) major, Ziegler has come a long way since first stepping inside Walz Arena. After a recent road win over a top-25 opponent, Limback remarked, “The kid’s in a zone.”
Born – and bred – to play hoops, Eli is brimming with confidence while focused on leading his team on a second-half-of-the-season run.
Says Eli, “I’m definitely a lot more confident. I feel confident to take big shots and make big plays if that’s what my team needs me to do.”
Get. Ziggy. With. It.