2013-14 Concordia women’s basketball season preview
At a glance:
2012-13 Record: 25-7 overall, 16-4 GPAC (2nd)
Head Coach: Drew Olson (166-67, 7 years; 5 National Tournament appearances; 1 GPAC regular-season title)
Returning Starters: Kristen Conahan (Sr.), Lori Laboda (Sr.), Jenna Lehmann (So.), Tracy Peitz (Jr.)
Other Key Returners: Britney Birtell (Sr.), Kelsey Hizer (Jr.), Ashley Kuntz (Jr.), Bailey Morris (Jr.), Jericca Pearson (Jr.), Taylor Wissing (So.)
Total Letter Winners Returning/Lost: 10/3
Key Losses: Beth Kohmetscher, Dawn Martin, Katie Rich
2012-13 GPAC All-Conference: Kristen Conahan (first team), Katie Rich (first team), Bailey Morris (second team), Lori Laboda (honorable mention), Tracy Peitz (honorable mention)
2012-13 NAIA All-America: Kristen Conahan (first team), Katie Rich (honorable mention)
By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
Another basketball season has arrived in the Cornhusker State where expectations are high as usual for a Concordia women’s program aiming for its sixth national tournament appearance in seven seasons. Star do-it-all guard Katie Rich has graduated, but plenty of weaponry remains in the form of backcourt mates Kristen Conahan and Bailey Morris.
Last year’s squad went 25-7 and finished second in the GPAC, but the Bulldogs still fell short of their own lofty expectations after concluding the season with a first-round national tournament loss to Cardinal Stritch University.
“I thought we did some good things, but we could have been a little bit better,” says eighth-year head coach Drew Olson. “We could have finished a lot stronger. Finishing 10-7 the last 17 games isn’t what we were capable of but I do think it motivated our kids.”
There will be plenty of motivation for Conahan, a returning first team All-American, who enters her final season as a Bulldog. There isn’t much the Omaha, Neb., native hasn’t yet accomplished as an individual. She has piled up 1,374 points and 273 3-point field goals in her 100 career games. She begins this season 426 points shy of Sarah Harrison’s school record of 1,800 career points.
“She’s an awesome player,” Olson said of Conahan. “She could go down as one of the best, if not the best. I think when we recruited her we thought, ‘she’s going to be a really good shooter.’ But we didn’t know what she was capable of as far as handling the ball and making great decisions. She’s turned herself into a great scorer.”
Conahan again teams with Morris, last season’s breakout star, in a backcourt that ranks among the NAIA’s best. Morris improved from 8.5 points per game and 28.6 percent 3-point shooting as a freshman to 14.6 points and 34.5 percent as a sophomore. Similar progression this season for the junior from Roseland, Neb., would be terrifying for opponents.
Things were already difficult enough last season for the opposition as Conahan and Morris tied for the GPAC lead in steals per game at 3.3. The duo fits perfectly into Olson’s philosophy that promotes an uptempo offense and a ball-hawking full-court press.
“We’re both just scrappy and quick,” Conahan said. “We’re both feisty girls and we like to get after it. We’re both really competitive people. We hate to lose and we’re not trying to lose anytime soon.”
More than anything else, Conahan has worked this offseason on fine-tuning her leadership qualities. With Rich gone, Conahan assumes the role as the primary senior leader. She’s the proverbial quarterback of a team built around her talents.
While Morris emerged as the unquestioned breakout performer of last season, 5-foot-10 junior Tracy Peitz appears to be the leading candidate to burst onto the scene this season. The Hartington, Neb., native fits the mold of Rich in her versatility on the court. Peitz has drawn rave reviews in the preseason for her improvement, especially in regards to her jump shot.
“She’s been working her butt off shooting and it’s really been showing off in practice,” Conahan said. “She didn’t have the best shot to begin with but she’s been working every single day, coming in and shooting and just doing really well.”
Olson believes Peitz has the ability to replace Rich as the conference’s defensive player of the year. Her length, athleticism and aggressiveness make her tough to handle on both ends of the floor.
“Now she’s turned herself into a pretty solid shooter and that goes along with the other parts of her game,” Olson said. “Incredible defender. Great driver. She can post up. She can get rebounds. She’s just a really good all-around player.”
The aforementioned trio of Conahan, Morris and Peitz serves as the team’s nucleus, but there are also seven other returners who have varying degrees of varsity experience. Senior forward Lori Laboda (6.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), junior forward Jericca Pearson (7.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and junior guard Kelsey Hizer (3.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) provide great complimentary pieces. Laboda has led the team in rebounding the past two seasons while Pearson serves as one of the team’s more athletic players and Hizer pitches in as a superb defender and 3-point shooter.
Other key varsity returners include senior forward Britney Birtell and sophomore guard Taylor Wissing. A native of Seward, Wissing worked as hard as any Bulldog this offseason and is expected to see increased minutes in the backcourt. In addition, junior forward Ashley Kuntz and sophomore forward Jenna Lehmann add depth in the frontcourt. Kuntz brings a knack for finishing in the paint.
The returners will be challenged for playing time by freshmen forwards Alayna Daberkow (Madison, Neb.) and Becky Mueller (Elkhorn, Neb.). Both players were cited by Olson and Conahan as individuals who have had great preseason performances.
“One who has really stood out so far has been Becky Mueller from Omaha Concordia with her strength and her toughness,” Olson said. “She’s very similar to Tracy where she can score in different ways with her 3-point shooting, her drives, her post ups. She’s going to be a really good player for us right away.
“I think Alayna Daberkow’s got an opportunity too. She’s a freak athlete. If she can catch on with the speed of the game coming from a little bit smaller town – Madison – she’s going to be really, really good down the line.”
Daberkow (the younger sister of Concordia football defensive coordinator Patrick Daberkow) and Mueller will provide a boost in the post. The Bulldogs hope to improve on last year’s rebounding margin, which was virtually dead even with its opponents.
“I think our post players are good,” Olson said. “They’re going to be great with their roles. We’re asking them to defend and rebound and knock down shots from the perimeter and finish inside. I think they’re going to be fine. We’re going to get more post production from some of our guards as well. I think there’s no question about (the ability of) our post players.”
The return of Conahan and Morris is a big reason why Concordia landed in a tie for first with Morningside in the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll. The considerable expectations are nothing new for a program that has consistently found ways to fill the void when players like Rich move on.
“I think it’s good to have those expectations but we don’t really think anything of it,” Conahan said. “It’s cool to be No. 1, but it doesn’t mean anything (in the preseason). Coach (Olson) said in the beginning of the year, ‘we have a lot of talent but we haven’t done anything with the talent yet.’”
Elsewhere in the GPAC, Morningside and Northwestern also must replace star players as the Mustangs’ Chelsie Trask and the Red Raiders’ Kendra De Jong have both graduated. Thus, league coaches are expecting the perennial powers to reload once again.
“Those teams might have lost a player, but they never miss a beat. Every year I feel like Northwestern loses their best player and think ‘they can’t be as good as they were last year, right?’ They always have somebody step up. Northwestern’s going to be just as good as they always are. Same with Morningside losing all their guards. I know they’re going to replace them and Morningside’s going to be really good. And Briar Cliff loses quite a bit. I don’t expect any of them to really drop off at all. I just know that they’re all going to be really good and the middle and the bottom teams are all getting much better.”
The 2013-14 campaign tips off on Friday, Nov. 1 when the Bulldogs take on Mount Mercy University (Iowa) in Des Moines at 6 p.m. The early-season schedule has plenty of obstacles with six of the team’s first seven games coming against teams that made last season’s national tournament.
29 October 2013
Junior Bailey Morris
Senior Kristen Conahan
Junior Tracy Peitz