The winter sports season of 2022-23 is in the books for Concordia Athletics. Among the highlights, Bulldog Women’s Track & Field continued its GPAC dominance while seasons culminated at national championship events for the track & field, men’s and women’s basketball and wrestling programs. In keeping up an incredible streak, Head Coach Matt Beisel’s women’s track program celebrated its eighth GPAC championship in a row and another NAIA top 10 national finish. Across the board, Concordia competed fiercely with the very best the GPAC had to offer this winter.
On an individual level, Josie Puelz seized her fifth career pole vault national title and stars like Noah Schutte and Taysha Rushton supplied thrills on the hardwood. Meanwhile, Issiah Burks made the most of a sixth year in the Concordia Wrestling program and Bulldog Dance made waves behind freshman All-American Ryleigh Flesner. Keep reading for a detailed look at the 2022-23 winter sports season.
Puelz emerges with fifth career national title
Every national championship is different – nothing was given to Josie Puelz despite her having already won four career pole vault national titles entering the 2022-23 indoor season. The Lincoln Lutheran High School alum came into the 2023 NAIA indoor national championships seeded third, an unfamiliar position. When it counts the most, count on Puelz. She cleared 13’ ¼” in Brookings, S.D., on March 3 and beat out a field that was looking to knock her off the throne. Instead, Puelz became just the second women’s vaulter ever to win three-straight NAIA indoor national titles. She just keeps building upon a career that has already made her into a Concordia Bulldog legend. She’s also a five-time GPAC pole vault titlist.
Said Puelz after her fifth national title, “I was very, very nervous coming into today. No nationals is ever the same. This is the lowest (seed) I’ve ever had coming into nationals, which was different. I think it gave me a great opportunity to persevere and show up today. I’m so grateful. The Lord provides adrenaline for a reason. The fact He kept it going this whole day and got me through the whole competition was phenomenal. This is a big relief to have done it again, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here.”
Women’s Track defends home turf, extends GPAC title streak to eight
Very early on Feb. 18 it became apparent that all other GPAC teams would be competing for second place as Concordia Women’s Track & Field began piling up the points at the 2023 GPAC Indoor Track & Field Championships. The Bulldogs had no problem defending their home Fieldhouse while extending the program’s run of consecutive GPAC championships to eight. By meet’s end, Concordia had racked up 241.5 points (compared to 109 for second place) in a thoroughly dominant performance. Event championships were claimed by the Bulldog women’s 4x400 meter relay, Rachel Battershell (400 meters), Lauren Dawson (race walk), Rylee Haecker (mile and 1,000 meters), Josie Puelz (pole vault), Amy Richert (pentathlon) and Adrianna Rodencal (60 hurdles and 200 meters). Just a freshman, Rodencal garnered GPAC Athlete of the Meet and GPAC Athlete of the Year accolades thanks to her scoring more points (28) than any other individual at the conference meet.
BONUS – Kylahn Freiberg and Zach Zohner surprised their way to NAIA national runner-up efforts at the 2023 national indoor meet, easily outperforming their seed markings entering the event. Freiberg ran a personal best of 2:54.87 in the finals of the 1,000 meters (third fastest in program history). She had not been projected to score any points in the event at nationals. Meanwhile, Zohner cleared four-straight bars higher than 16 feet on his way to placing second in the pole vault. It was the first career All-America award for Zohner.
Wrestling equals school wins record in season that exceeds expectations
Outside of the program, expectations were low for Concordia Wrestling as the 2022-23 season got underway in early November. The Bulldogs had a new head coach in Chase Clasen and landed at No. 6 in the GPAC preseason rankings. Under Clasen’s direction, Concordia made an impressive leap forward in placing third during the GPAC dual season and then third again at the conference tournament. All the while, the Bulldogs kept stacking dual wins. They finished the year at 13-2, equaling the 2015-16 (13-4) and 2019-20 (13-2) teams for the most dual victories in a single season. Based on overall wins, some of the most significant individual contributors to that achievement were Creighton Baughman (25-10), Tommy Wentz (20-12), Issiah Burks (18-13) and Stephen Duffy (15-10).
Noah Schutte breaks out, leads Bulldogs back to nationals
Noah Schutte was already really good, but he took it to a new level this past season. Schutte wound up averaging 20.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. His shooting percentages were impressive across the board: 54.4 from the floor, 46.3 from 3-point range and 79.4 from the foul line. His crown jewel single game effort was his 38-point, 18-rebound output in the GPAC semifinal win at Northwestern. In that contest, Schutte broke the school record with nine 3-point field goals. Schutte’s average of 20.1 points per game is the highest in a season for a Concordia player since Jon Ziegler averaged 21.3 points in 2006-07. With Schutte and Gage Smith (program’s No. 2 all-time rebounder) leading the way, the Bulldogs managed to sneak into the national tournament with an at-large berth. The program made its second national tournament in a row and third in four seasons.
CIT makes return with Bulldogs dominating at home
At long last, the Concordia Invitational Tournament made its return. For two days, Friedrich Arena rocked and rolled thanks to near capacity crowds. The Bulldog teams obliged the audience in winning CIT titles in men’s basketball, women’s basketball and dance (cheer finished .08 points away from making it a clean sweep for CUNE). CUNE Dance claimed its first-ever CIT championship. The event had not been held in 2021 or 2022 due to COVID-19. The 2023 CIT marked the 70th tournament in the event’s history. MVP awards were handed out to Noah Schutte on the men’s side and Taysha Rushton on the women’s side.
Women’s basketball earns 12th straight national tournament bid
Once again, Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad went up against one of the nation’s toughest schedules. And once again, the Bulldogs made their way to the national tournament. Olson has guided the program to 12-straight national tournaments and to 15 national appearances in his 17 seasons as head coach. The 2022-23 team overcome some bumps in the road (like a 1-3 start to GPAC play) and showed clear strides from where it was a season go. As a do-it-all guard, Taysha Rushton earned the third First Team All-GPAC award of her career while surpassing 1,000 career points. Rushton was one of five all-conference award winners. She was joined in the backcourt by a rising sophomore standout in Abby Krieser. Concordia finished the season at 20-12 overall and reached the NAIA national round of 32.
Cheer/Dance teams break school records
Each season under Head Coach Mandi Maser, the competitive cheer and dance teams keep raising their game. In particular, dance made a strong push for a bid to the NAIA National Championships this winter. While the Bulldogs fell just short of that goal, they broke the school record for competition scores on multiple occasions, wound up ranked No. 13 in the NAIA for average score (81.47) and captured first place at CIT. Meanwhile, cheer also broke the program record for competition score and ranked 26th in the NAIA for average score (77.80). From an individual perspective, five Bulldogs between cheer and dance garnered all-conference honors and Ryleigh Flesner was named a second team All-American.
Burks upsets way to GPAC title
A redshirt year and the COVID-19 year resulted in Issiah Burks remaining inside the Concordia Wrestling program for a six-year period. The native of Hemet, Calif., used up his eligibility in 2022-23 and seized the moment at the conference championships when he upset his way to a 165-pound title as the No. 5 seed. As a reward for winning the conference tournament, Burks earned a spot at the national tournament for the first time in his career. His emergence late in the campaign was one of the feel-good stories of the winter in Concordia Athletics. Burks collected one victory at the national tournament, pushing his career win total to 77, fourth most on the program’s all-time list. Burks’ journey was featured HERE.
2022-23 record: 18-13 overall; 11-9 GPAC (5th); NAIA National Qualifier.
Top performer: The frontcourt was the biggest strength for Concordia, which got All-America level production from Noah Schutte, a First Team All-GPAC honoree. Schutte averaged 20.1 points and 7.0 rebounds for the season in continuing his rise to stardom. In the win at Doane, Schutte surpassed 1,000 career points in a collegiate career that has at least one more season remaining. Schutte and Gage Smith were a dynamic duo in the frontcourt. Gage finished his collegiate career as the No. 2 scorer in program history.
Season highlights: There were some ups and downs, but Head Coach Ben Limback’s Bulldogs were able to celebrate when their name was called as an at-large selection into the NAIA national field of 64. Concordia overcame adversity and lineup changes to make the program’s 12th all-time national tournament appearance. Thrills along the way included a dominant CIT championship run in front of the home fans and a rout of Northwestern, 90-77, in the GPAC quarterfinals. Schutte went off in the game for 38 points and 18 rebounds and a school record nine 3-point field goals. The journey took Concordia to places like Pinnacle Bank Arena, Fort Worth, Texas, and to Wichita, Kan., for the first round of the national tournament. Considering Schutte and Tristan Smith return next season, the Bulldogs will be eyeing a return to the national tournament.
GPAC All-Conference: Noah Schutte (First Team); Gage Smith (Second Team); Brad Bennett (Honorable Mention); Tristan Smith (Honorable Mention).
NAIA All-American: Noah Schutte (Honorable Mention).
2022-23 record: 20-12 overall; 14-8 GPAC (T-5th); NAIA National Qualifier (round of 32).
Top performer: In her third season as a Bulldog, Taysha Rushton improved her shooting efficiency and gained confidence in a group of teammates that also made strides. The Midland, Texas, native was named First Team All-GPAC for the third-straight year while averaging 14.0 points per game with shooting percentages of 42.5 from the floor and 41.1 from 3-point range. Rushton rattled off 26 points in a 77-50 win over Columbia College (Mo.) in the first round of the national tournament.
Season highlights: Head Coach Drew Olson loved the toughness of this team, which started out 1-3 in GPAC play before coming together for another season of national tournament qualification. The Bulldogs enjoyed a 13-game conference stretch that saw them go 11-2. Among the significant highlights, Concordia thoroughly dominated CIT at home, navigated one of the NAIA’s toughest schedules and won at then 19th-ranked Jamestown in the GPAC tournament quarterfinals. All the while, the Bulldogs were led by a backcourt featuring Rushton and rising standouts such as Abby Krieser, Kendal Brigham and Mackenzie Toomey. In the frontcourt, players like Sadie Powell, Abby Heemstra and Kristin Vieselmeyer kept making strides. Concordia’s season ended when it ran into a hot shooting Thomas More University (Ky.) opponent in the national round of 32.
GPAC All-Conference: Taysha Rushton (First Team); Abby Krieser (Second Team); Sadie Powell (Second Team); Kendal Brigham (Honorable Mention); Mackenzie Toomey (Honorable Mention).
NAIA All-American: Taysha Rushton (Honorable Mention).
Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field
2023 women’s GPAC finish: 1st
2023 women’s national finish: 6th
2023 men’s GPAC finish: 3rd
2023 men’s national finish: T-31st
Top performers: Josie Puelz deserves mention here after she rose to the top of the podium once again and earned the fifth pole vault national title of her astounding career. There were some moments of self-doubt, even for Puelz, but when the dust had settled, she had swept both GPAC and NAIA indoor titles as usual. Also notable, Rachel Battershell picked up the 11th All-America award of her career and Adrianna Rodencal was named the GPAC Athlete of the Year after she won two individual conference titles. On the men’s side, Zach Bennetts notched his third career GPAC pole vault championship and teammate Zach Zohner was the NAIA pole vault national runner up.
Season highlights: The women’s program has been on a roll that will go down in Concordia Bulldogs lore. Coach Matt Beisel’s squad made it eight GPAC titles in a row while running away with the 2023 conference indoor crown behind GPAC Athlete of the Year Adrianna Rodencal. Meanwhile, the men’s team placed third in the GPAC with the help of a title from Zach Bennetts. All season long, both teams earned NAIA top 25 rankings in the ratings released by the USTFCCCA. During the indoor season, the Bulldogs got comfortable inside the Fieldhouse while hosting five home meets. The series of home meets helped Concordia pile up 27 automatic national qualifying standards and 25 ‘B’ marks leading into the national meet. At the NAIA Championships held in Brookings, S.D., 11 Bulldogs emerged with All-America awards, headlined by the national title won by Josie Puelz. As underdog stories, Zach Zohner (pole vault) and Kylahn Freiberg (1,000 meters) earned national runner up claims in their respective events. The women’s program posted yet another NAIA top 10 finish.
GPAC All-Conference: See the full list HERE.
NAIA All-Americans: Rachel Battershell (4x400m Relay); Zach Bennetts (Pole Vault); Jenna Esch (4x400m Relay); Kylahn Freiberg (1,000 Meters); Abby Gerber (Shot Put); Rylee Haecker (1,000 Meters); Jordan Koepke (4x400m Relay); Erin Mapson (Pole Vault); Josie Puelz (Pole Vault – National Champion); Trinity Tuls (4x400m Relay); Zach Zohner (Pole Vault).
2022-23 record: 13-2 overall; 6-2 GPAC
GPAC finishes: 3rd regular season; 3rd postseason
NAIA national finish: T-39th
Top performer: The team’s most consistent performer throughout the balance of the season was 141-pounder Creighton Baughman, a transfer who was a two-time All-America at the JUCO level. Baughman spent the entire campaign ranked nationally within his weight class and finished it with a 25-10 overall record. He ultimately placed second in the GPAC at 141 and qualified for nationals in Park City, Kan., where he claimed two wins. Teammate Issiah Burks rose up at the right time and was the 165-pound GPAC champion.
Season highlights: Outside of the Concordia Wrestling room, expectations were low. However, the Bulldogs outperformed their GPAC preseason placement of sixth and went on to finish third in the GPAC dual standings and third at the GPAC tournament. One of the finest days of the season for Head Coach Chase Clasen’s crew came on Jan. 28 when it won duals over Northwestern, Briar Cliff and Jamestown, locking up the third-place GPAC finish. Concordia also did fine work at the GPAC tournament in earning four automatic bids to nationals via the All-GPAC award winners listed below. Issiah Burks’ GPAC title at 165 pounds stood out as perhaps the most thrilling singular moment all season. Baughman, Burks and Logan Davidson (also a member of the football team) combined for four wins on the national stage.
GPAC All-Conference: Issiah Burks (First Team); Creighton Baughman (Second Team); Logan Davidson (Honorable Mention); Tavoris Smith (Honorable Mention).
2023 Cheer GPAC finish: 3rd of 8
2023 Dance GPAC finish: 5th of 9
2023 Dance regional finish: 6th of 10
Summary: The program keeps on reaching new heights year-by-year under the direction of Head Coach Mandi Maser. The only disappointment at season’s end was that Concordia Dance fell just short of earning an at-large berth to the national championships. On the dance side of things, the Bulldogs produced a program record score of 85.9 in a dual win over Morningside and ranked 13th nationally in terms of scoring average (81.47). Senior Katie Birtell and company also celebrated the program’s first-ever CIT championship. Meanwhile, cheer also broke the program record for competition score (83.36 at the GPAC Championships) and ranked 26th in the NAIA for average score (77.80). At the conference championships/NAIA qualifier, Concordia placed third in cheer and sixth in dance. A total of five Bulldogs picked up all-conference recognition and freshman Ryleigh Flesner made history by landing on the NAIA All-America second team.
GPAC All-Conference: Katie Birtell (Dance); Ryleigh Flesner (Dance); Taylor Larsen (Dance); Avery Lewis (Dance – Honorable Mention); Shelby Timmerman (Cheer – Honorable Mention).
NAIA All-American: Ryleigh Flesner (Second Team).