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A winter of champions

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 20, 2020 in Athletic Announcements

There’s never been a winter quite like this one in the history of Concordia University, Nebraska athletics. Championship banners streamed into 800 North Columbia Avenue courtesy of the men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s track and field and wrestling programs in recent weeks. Counting the regular season and postseason, Bulldog teams combined for six GPAC championships this winter alone. All of that success vaulted Concordia to No. 1 in the GPAC All-Sports Trophy Standings with 118.5 points, a half-point in front of Morningside.

Track and field and wrestling completed their NAIA national championships before the coronavirus pandemic wiped out athletic events across the country. An unfortunate consequence was the cancellation of the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments before the first round had even concluded. However, that health crisis does not diminish what Concordia Athletics accomplished this winter.


Battershell breaks 31-year-old school record in national championship winning performance

The incredible Rachel Battershell was already quite good as a freshman in 2018-19, but she rose to a whole new level this winter. The ultimate thrill came on March 7, the final day of the 2020 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships. In the finals of the 400 meters, Battershell galloped to a national title winning time of 54.77. Her blazing fast finish resulted in the native of Wheatland, Wyo., breaking the 400 meter school record of 54.98 that had been held by Carol Bailey since 1989. This was far from the only achievement Battershell turned in this winter. She was also the GPAC Indoor Athlete of the Meet and the GPAC Indoor Athlete of the Year. Not only that, Battershell also broke the school record in the 60 meter hurdles and as part of the 4x400 meter relay. It truly was one of the greatest seasons ever for a Concordia athlete on the track. Said Battershell in a feature interview, “There’s no limit to what I can do when He is with me.”


Barry’s handling of national tournament cancellation earns wide range of approval
It wasn’t an easy situation to handle, but senior point guard Grace Barry handled it about as well as anyone could have. Her career and hopes of a second-straight shot at a national championship ended when the national tournament was canceled due to worries of spreading the coronavirus. Barry took to Twitter to provide here thoughts. Barry chose to show concern for the well-being of others rather than to sulk over the abrupt ending to her career. Her tweet was ‘liked’ more than 2,000 times and Lincoln TV stations followed up with Barry and teammate Philly Lammers to further discuss the situation.

Men’s basketball claims first conference title in 15 years
Head coach Ben Limback’s squad put everything together at the right time – and had a little bit of good fortune with the league’s top seed getting knocked out of the conference tournament. The Bulldogs brushed aside a number of droughts for the program by defeating Northwestern, Hastings and 11th-ranked Dakota Wesleyan during the postseason. As the tournament’s No. 4 seed, Concordia hosted Northwestern in the quarterfinals and Hastings in the semifinals. In the championship game, Tanner Shuck and the Bulldogs clicked while building a 17-point first half lead. Concordia held on for a 68-66 win inside the Corn Palace. The senior leadership of Shuck, Brevin Sloup and Chuol Biel provided a lift during a late-season run that saw the Bulldogs win seven-straight games leading into the national tournament. Said Limback afterwards, “This was an amazing night none of us will ever forget.”

Women’s basketball ends season as No. 1-ranked team, earns GPAC four-peat
Heartbreaking news was delivered on March 12 when the Concordia women’s basketball team learned it would not have the opportunity to defend its 2019 national title, due to the tournament being canceled. Despite that news, the Bulldogs put together another remarkable season that included a sweep of GPAC regular-season and postseason titles for the fourth year in a row. As a result, Concordia garnered the No. 1 overall seed at the national tournament. Head coach Drew Olson’s squad moved its record to 32-2 overall after a first-round win over Wilberforce University (Ohio). It turned out to be the final game in the collegiate careers of a senior class that included first team All-GPAC honorees Grace Barry and Philly Lammers as well as key contributors in Colby Duvel, MacKenzie Helman, Taryn Schuette and Riley Sibbel.

Women’s track and field retains hold on conference supremacy
The reign atop the GPAC continued this winter for head coach Matt Beisel’s women’s track and field program. Behind Rachel Battershell, the Bulldogs ran away with the GPAC indoor championship while piling up 193 team points. Battershell won conference titles in the 400 meters and 60 meter hurdles and as part of the 4x400 meter relay. Additional GPAC event championships were turned in by Kylahn Heritage (3,000 meters), Kennedy Mogul (pentathlon), Josie Puelz (pole vault) and Addie Shaw (weight throw). Beisel earned GPAC Coach of the Year honors as a streak of GPAC women’s titles continued, including a sweep of 2019 conference indoor/outdoor championships and a 2019 cross country title. Said Beisel after the latest GPAC title, “We’re blessed to have the staff we have, the athletes that God placed here and a supportive administration. It’s awe inspiring and humbling that God has brought us all together at this place in time.”

Wrestling earns sweep of GPAC titles
Conference titles are nothing new for Concordia wrestling, which dominated the GPAC in 2019-20 by going 8-0 in conference duals prior to winning the conference tournament by a margin of more than 40 points. Concordia’s individual GPAC champions were sophomore Mario Ybarra (125), junior Gabe Crawford (157) and senior Tanner Farmer (285). The program has now won GPAC titles in five of the past six years and is 41-4 in conference duals over that stretch. Named GPAC Coach of the Year, Levi Calhoun leaned upon a senior class that got a big boost from Farmer, the GPAC Wrestler of the Year. The Bulldogs went on to place 15th at the NAIA national championships (best among GPAC teams). Said Calhoun after the conference tournament, “I’m super proud of the guys. To have all 12 guys in the top six and 10 in the top four of their weight classes is pretty amazing. They definitely exceeded the expectations I had going into it.”

Cornelio wins first national title, marking program’s 17th throws title since 2014
The string of throwing national champions seems to be endless. Once the ball got rolling with Liz King in the javelin in 2014, the Bulldogs keep producing more NAIA titles in the throws. Senior Jacob Cornelio became the latest national champion when he threw the weight throw 64’ 7 ¼” at the 2020 indoor national meet. It marked the first national title in the career of Cornelio (five-time All-American), who was the 2019 weight throw national runner up. Highly acclaimed throws coach Ed McLaughlin has now overseen 17 throws national championships. Cornelio joined a group that includes Cody Boellstorff (four), Zach Lurz (four), Samantha Liermann (three), Liz King (two), Addie Shaw (two) and Josh Slechta (one).

Farmer causes stir in trading Husker red for Bulldog blue
This winter, plenty of media attention descended upon Tanner Farmer, the former Nebraska Cornhusker offensive lineman turned Concordia wrestler. Farmer caused a stir by starting his Bulldog career at 26-0 while making his way to the NAIA heavyweight national championship match. There was plenty of curiosity regarding his adjustment back to the wrestling mat and how his size and strength would play to his advantage at the NAIA level. Ultimately, Farmer was defeated in the NAIA title match as part of his tremendous run. Farmer garnered GPAC Wrestler of the Year accolades and was the conference champion at 285. Said Farmer after it had all ended, “I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”


Men’s Basketball
2019-20 record: 24-10 overall; 12-8 GPAC (T-4th); GPAC postseason champions
Top performer: Concordia displayed plenty of balance during its GPAC tournament title run, but no one player was more consistently reliable than The Mayor Brevin Sloup, who paced the team with an average of 15.8 points per game. Sloup landed on the All-GPAC first team and became a member of the program’s 1,000-point club. Others like Carter Kent, Tanner Shuck and Justin Wiersema also enjoyed many moments of brilliance.
Season highlights: The highlight of the season, without a doubt, was the 68-66 GPAC tournament championship game win at 11th-ranked Dakota Wesleyan. Had the Bulldogs fallen at the Corn Palace, they may have been left out of the national tournament. Instead, members of the team celebrated an evening they will never forget. Senior Tanner Shuck supplied 17 points while making some critical perimeter shots down the stretch. The season’s journey also included a CIT championship in Chicago, a trip to Hawaii and an instant classic of an overtime win at Jamestown to finish off the regular season. On March 4, Concordia learned its assignment for the national tournament and nearly knocked off fifth-ranked Ottawa just over a week later in the first round. In addition, the Bulldogs had a stretch of three-straight GPAC Player of the Week awards, each one going to a different player. Memories from the postgame celebration at DWU will live on forever.
GPAC All-Conference: Brevin Sloup (First Team); Carter Kent (Second Team); Tanner Shuck (Honorable Mention); Justin Wiersema (Honorable Mention).
NAIA All-American: Brevin Sloup (Honorable Mention).
Thoughts from Coach Ben Limback: Last season, at one point in December, we were the last place team in the league. Right after Christmas this team came together and really refocused. From then on I feel like this team has been on a mission. There has been a cohesiveness and a bond that continued to get stronger as the season went on. We had some tough losses even this year. There was a stretch where we lost a number of games in a row and had a tough streak. Each time the guys would learn from that. At Doane we lost a tough one and I felt like there was a different mindset after that game. This team had so much fight. The theme that this team chose, “Stay Hungry,” never wavered. They just couldn’t get enough. We went to the Corn Palace in that environment against a great team, faced so much adversity and came away with a win. The game at Jamestown we were down 18 in a game we had to win in order to host a home playoff game. There were a lot of fun memories. I can see God’s hand in it in a lot of ways from how this team was formed and came together to make the national tournament.

Women’s Basketball
2019-20 record: 32-2 overall; 21-1 GPAC (1st); GPAC regular-season/postseason champions
Top performer: It takes a great collective effort to go 32-2, but Grace Barry and Philly Lammers are the stars of the show and the most accomplished individuals in terms of career accolades. This winter, Lammers surpassed 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for her career during another All-America campaign. Lammers put together one of her best performances of the season in the GPAC tournament championship game when she scored 21 points versus Hastings. Meanwhile, Barry eclipsed 1,000 points in her career and was again a dynamic playmaking point guard.
Season highlights: The coronavirus thwarted an attempt at a second national championship in a row, but the Bulldogs still managed to turn in another wildly successful season. In an unprecedented achievement, Concordia swept GPAC regular-season and postseason titles for the fourth straight-year. Each of the seniors (who went 137-10 over the past four seasons) were key players for a program well-known on a national scale. As part of the 2019-20 ride, Barry and Lammers reached career milestones, Concordia reached the 30-win mark again, another CIT celebration came and went and the Bulldogs achieved No. 1 national rankings in the preseason and heading into the national tournament. The team’s mature handling of the cancellation of the national tournament provided another clear example of the special nature of this program. Finally, Drew Olson’s team regrouped admirably after 2018-19 leading scorer Taylor Cockerill went down with a season-ending injury in the double overtime exhibition loss at Creighton. It’s very possible that another national title banner would have been secured had the tournament been played out.
GPAC All-Conference: Philly Lammers (Defensive Player of the Year; First Team); Grace Barry (First Team); Mackenzie Koepke (Second Team); Colby Duvel (Honorable Mention); MacKenzie Helman (Honorable Mention); Riley Sibbel (Honorable Mention).
NAIA All-Americans: Philly Lammers (First Team); Grace Barry (Second Team).
Thoughts from Coach Drew Olson: I think the quote from Rudy Tomjanovich, “never underestimate the heart of a champion,” fit our team. I’m so proud of them for continuing to fight. We had two big losses with Quinn Wragge and then Taylor Cockerill went down in the Creighton game. And yet, you look at what we still accomplished it’s truly amazing. We were able to continue to win the conference regular season and tournament and be the No. 1 overall team going into the national tournament. Holy cow, what an awesome season. There are a lot of little fun memories along the way that I’ll think about in the journey. I’m blown away by what we were still able to accomplish and very thankful for that. There are a ton of memories (with these seniors). I don’t know where I’d even start with it. I’m so blessed and thankful that they chose Concordia, they trusted me and I got to coach them and be a part of their lives for four years. The big memory is winning the national championship, but there’s been a whole bunch of other ones.

Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field
2020 men’s GPAC finish: 3rd
2020 men’s national finish: T-17th
2020 women’s GPAC finish: 1st
2020 women’s national finish: 4th
Top performers: There were many high level performers, but none stood out in quite the fashion that sophomore Rachel Battershell did. Among the highlights, Battershell won a national title in the 400 meters, captured three GPAC titles, was named the GPAC Indoor Athlete of the Meet and the GPAC Indoor Athlete of the Year and set new program standards in the 60 meter hurdles, 400 meters and as part of the 4x400 meter relay. In the throws, Concordia again had star power in the likes of seniors Jacob Cornelio (weight throw national champion) and Addie Shaw (national runner up in the weight throw and shot put).
Season highlights: The women’s program has clearly re-established itself as a powerhouse on the GPAC and national levels. Battershell’s incredibly impressive sophomore season helped pave the way for a third-straight GPAC women’s team title. As a team, the Bulldog women captured seven GPAC event titles at the indoor meet. Meanwhile, the men placed third in the GPAC behind weight throw titlist Jacob Cornelio. Both teams spent much of the indoor season ranked in the top five of the NAIA by the USTFCCCA before national finishes of fourth for women and 17th for men. National champions Battershell and Cornelio were two of the 12 Concordia individuals to collect All-America honors. In addition, the Bulldog women’s pole vault group, including school record breaker Allie Brooks, was fun to watch all winter. Shaw also rose to the top of the program’s record book in the weight throw.
GPAC All-Conference: See the full list HERE.
NAIA All-Americans: Rachel Battershell (400 meters; 4x400 relay); Chase Berry (pole vault); Mika Brees (4x400 relay); Allie Brooks (pole vault); Jacob Cornelio (weight throw); Morgan De Jong (weight throw); Gavin De Haai (pole vault); Sarah Lewis (4x400 relay); Josie Puelz (pole vault); Xavier Ross (400 meters); Addie Shaw (weight throw; shot put).
Thoughts from Coach Matt Beisel: You go to nationals and have a meet like we did and that was the icing on the cake. We were finished (for the school year) without knowing we were finished. We finished on a really high note. I think that’s one thing that is giving our kids strength. Almost every one of our seniors had a fantastic finish and I’m very grateful to God for that. My biggest highlight was to see God’s hand working in the relationships between our athletes and our coaches. I feel like there is something really big happening within our team that is preparing us for big things. Having the women win another GPAC title was a huge highlight. Our guys finishing third with a couple of our key people unable to compete was a good thing to see. Our women were utterly dominant in the GPAC. We have some key seniors leaving, but a lot of kids returning. It’s a ton of fun. To finish fourth and get a trophy on the women’s side at indoor nationals and see the joy on their faces is something no one can ever take away. I’ll cherish it forever. We lost a season (outdoor) here and it stinks, but I also know we have an amazing God who loves us and He’s going to get us through this. We have resilient kids. All of them that I’ve talked to have expressed a determination not to let it crush their spirit. I think we’re going to come back stronger next year.

2019-20 record: 13-2 overall; 9-0 GPAC
GPAC finishes: 1st in duals; 1st in tournament
NAIA national finish: 15th
Top performer: This title goes to someone that did not start the 2019-20 season on the roster. Tanner Farmer made his Concordia debut on Jan. 9 and took the NAIA wrestling scene by storm. The former Nebraska Cornhusker offensive lineman won his first 26 matches as a Bulldog, advancing all the way to the NAIA heavyweight title match. Farmer wound up as the national runner up and was also named the GPAC Wrestler of the Year. Along the way, the humble and classy Farmer took on plenty of media attention from those who followed his career at Nebraska.
Season highlights: The wrestling program was the first Concordia team this winter to claim a conference championship. The Bulldogs were dominant within the GPAC again in going 8-0 in conference duals while then winning the conference tournament by a margin of more than 40 points. Farmer and the senior class were the backbone of the team. Of the team’s eight national qualifiers, six were seniors, including All-American Alberto Garcia (133). The eight qualifiers were the most for the program since it took 10 to nationals in 2017. Individual GPAC titles were claimed by Gabe Crawford (157), Farmer (285) and Mario Ybarra (125). A sophomore from Scottsbluff, Ybarra appears to have a bright future after coming up one win shy of placing on the All-America podium. Concordia ended up placing 15th in the NAIA. Another highlight was the trip to the Desert Duals in Vegas just before Christmas. The Bulldogs were also a perfect 6-0 in home duals.
GPAC All-Conference: Levi Calhoun (Coach of the Year); Tanner Farmer (Wrestler of the Year; First Team); Gabe Crawford (First Team); Mario Ybarra (First Team); Alberto Garcia (Second Team); Chris Kimball (Second Team); Darrin Miller (Second Team); Cameron Devers (Honorable Mention); Deandre Chery (Honorable Mention).
NAIA All-Americans: Tanner Farmer (2nd; 285); Alberto Garcia (5th; 133).
Thoughts from Coach Levi Calhoun: It went a lot better maybe than I even expected personally. I think our guys outperformed themselves, which is awesome to see. They always came into the room every day ready to work. No matter how the previous weekend went they came in on Monday ready to get better. I’m just super proud to be their coach. These kids worked so hard and overcame a lot of adversity this year. To go undefeated in conference duals and 13-2 overall is really good. I told our guys after we won the conference tournament – they make me look good. There’s not a lot I can do once they step on the mat. They are the guys that go out there and get it done. I’m just proud to be the Bulldog wrestling coach and proud of every one of our guys that stepped on the mat for us this year.

2020 Cheer GPAC finish: 6th of 7
2020 Cheer regional finish: 6th of 7
2020 Dance GPAC finish: 6th of 10
2020 Dance regional finish: 4th of 10
Summary: Both the cheer and dance squads showed improvement in Mandi Maser’s fourth season as head coach. Maser was honored as the GPAC Cheer Coach of the Year. The cheer and dance teams competed in eight competitions during a season that lasted from Jan. 19 through Feb. 29. On the dance side, the Bulldogs ended the season on a high by climbing to fourth place (out of 10 teams) at the NAIA Northwest Qualifier. That finish represented a two-spot improvement from the GPAC championships. Freshman Katie Anderson earned honorable mention all-conference accolades in dance. Maser’s teams were captained by seniors Morgan Fritsch and Annie Pico and junior Lanessa Kerner in cheer and junior Kalina Schoenfeld in dance. Volleyball student-athlete Kaci Hohenthaner joined the team in the middle of the season. Both teams competed at the Concordia Invitational Tournament and were also regulars at many other varsity sporting events.
GPAC All-Conference: Katie Anderson (Honorable Mention).
Thoughts from Coach Mandi Maser:
My dancers worked so hard this year, and each of their performances showed it. After the first round at regionals we weren’t quiet where we wanted to be in placements so I told them “Hey, this is the moment we have worked for all year long, YOU can do this! Lay it all out on the floor, zero regrets!” And that is exactly what they did. They gave it everything they had for the second round at regionals and jumped three placements to earn fourth place. We as coaches could not have been any prouder of them. They are all returning next year so (graduate assistant coach) Emilie (Ashenbach) and I both are so excited to see what they and all the new recruits can all accomplish together.
My cheerleaders were resilient this year. We definitely had a lot of ups and downs with injuries this year, but no matter what the situation the team took the bull by the horns and adapted. They did exactly what Emilie and I asked of them and we couldn’t have asked for them to perform any better. We had a few seniors save the day by sticking with us during student teaching and joining in the middle of the season just three days before a competition. We were definitely blessed with each athlete we had on the mat this year and I couldn’t be any more proud of how this season turned out. We are excited to see what this 2020-21 season is going to bring us with our new recruits and the plans we have in store for our team.