Bulldogs to welcome Florida College for opening round of NAIA National Championship

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 14, 2022 in Volleyball

NAIA Qualifiers Release

SEWARD, Neb. – On Monday (Nov. 14) morning, the Concordia University Volleyball team learned of its draw for the 2022 NAIA National Championship Opening Round. An automatic national qualifier, the Bulldogs will host Florida College, a member of the Continental Athletic Conference, on Saturday as one of 24 opening round matches across the NAIA landscape. The arrangement is similar to last year when Concordia welcomed Ave Maria University of Florida to Seward.

NAIA National Championship Opening Round

Concordia (23-5) vs. Florida College (28-9)
--Saturday, Nov. 19 | 1 p.m. CT | Friedrich Arena (Seward, Neb.)
--Live Webcast/Stats
--Admission: $8 for adults/senior citizens, $5 for college/high school students and youth; only those with NAIA passes are admitted free of charge.
--Buy advance tickets via https://www.cune.edu/athletics/tickets.

Head Coach Ben Boldt and lead assistant Angie Boldt have guided the program to a fourth-straight national tournament appearance. The bar has been set high by the 2020 and 2021 squads that both reached the NAIA national quarterfinals. The Bulldogs will enter the 2022 national tournament with a No. 4 national ranking and a 23-5 overall record. Concordia earned the automatic bid to nationals via its GPAC tournament runner up placement. Over the past four years, the Bulldogs have won a combined eight times at the national tournament. This will be the third time in program history that Concordia has hosted an opening round match.

Florida College will be an unfamiliar foe. The two sides also did not have a common opponent during the 2022 season. The school is located in the Tampa, Fla., area. According to the institution’s website, “Florida College is a private liberal arts school with a goal of providing higher education with a biblical perspective. This unique environment fosters personal spiritual development and prepares students for better service to their Creator and humanity.” The Falcons will make their second all-time national tournament appearance. While making its first nationals appearance in 2021, Florida College was defeated at the University of Providence (Mont.), 25-10, 25-13, 25-14. Head Coach Carry Brown is in her fifth season at the head of the program.

The Matchup

--National ranking in parentheses

Head Coach: Ben Boldt, 5th season
Record: 23-5, 12-4 GPAC (3rd)
SOS: 1st (Massey Ratings)
Hitting %: .264 (2nd)
Kills/set: 14.09 (3rd)
Blocks/set: 2.09 (37th)
Digs/set: 17.03 (61st)
Aces/set: 1.21 (191st)
Kills: Gabi Nordaker – 296 (3.05/set)
Blocks: Gabi Nordaker – 101 (1.04/set)
Assists: Bree Burtwistle – 1,083 (11.16/set)
Digs: Rebecca Gebhardt – 445 (4.59/set)
Aces: Bree Burtwistle – 25 (0.26/set)

Florida College
Head Coach: Carry Brown, 5th season
Record: 28-9, 12-1 CAC (1st)
SOS: 202nd (Massey Ratings)
Hitting %: .181 (83rd)
Kills/set: 12.29 (63rd)
Blocks/set: 1.58 (138th)
Digs/set: 19.67 (8th)
Aces/set: 2.16 (12th)
Kills: Emma Noskey – 395 (3.62/set)
Blocks: Michelle Taylor – 74 (0.62/set)
Assists: Emilie Selvidge – 1,098 (9.15/set)
Digs: Avery Lanning – 558 (4.89/set)
Aces: Krista Trimble – 56 (0.47/set)

National Tournament Facts/Game Notes

·        Concordia will be making the fifth national tournament appearance in program history. The 2015 squad became the first Bulldog volleyball edition to qualify for nationals. The ’15 squad was defeated in the opening round while hosting Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.). Then in 2019, Concordia broke through with an advancement to the national round of 16 and claimed the program’s first two national tournament victories – over Montana Tech and the University of Saint Mary (Kan.).

·        The 2020 team took things a step further by reaching the NAIA national quarterfinals. The path to the quarterfinals included wins over Xavier University of Louisiana (opening round), Lindsey Wilson College (Ky.) and No. 7 Marian University (Ind.). The run ended with a loss to Dordt. The 2021 squad also advanced to the NAIA national quarterfinals. Entering this year’s national tournament, the Bulldogs are 8-5 all-time at the national tournament.

·        At last season’s national tournament, Concordia hosted Ave Maria University (Fla.) in the opening round and won in straight sets, 25-12, 25-23, 25-19, while outhitting the Gyrenes, .308 to .111. The path to the national quarterfinals then featured wins at the final site over No. 25 Oregon Tech University in four sets and No. 2 Viterbo University (Wis.) in five sets. The Bulldogs had their season end with a five-set defeat at the hands of Marian University (Ind.) in five sets in the national quarterfinals. Concordia is one of four teams nationally to reach bracket play in each of the past three national tournaments (the others are Jamestown, Missouri Baptist and Northwestern).

·        Boldt’s crew has plenty of experience on the national stage. The Bulldogs return 12 players that were part of the 2021 national tournament roster. This will be the fourth national tournament for seniors Camryn Opfer and Kalee Wiltfong, both instrumental figures in the most prosperous time period in program history. The Seward High School product Opfer has shined on the national stage. She was named to the NAIA National Championship All-Tournament Team in both 2020 and 2021. Opfer had a match to remember in last year’s win over No. 2 Viterbo when she racked up 21 kills and hit .514 from the outside. Others with national tournament experience are Bree Burtwistle, Rebecca Gebhardt, Cassidy Knust, Lexie Kreizel, Morgan Nibbe, Gabi Nordaker, Carly Rodaway, Shelby Stark, Kennedy VanScoy and Ashlyn Wischmeier.

·        Concordia owns wins over eight teams that qualified for the 2022 national tournament: College of Saint Mary (three times), Hastings (twice), Midland, Northwestern, Park Gilbert (Ariz.), Southern Oregon, Texas Wesleyan and Viterbo (Wis.). Seven GPAC teams have qualified for the national tournament and each one will be hosting in the opening round. The national tournament field is made up of 36 automatic qualifiers and 12 at-large selections.

·        Opfer has made her way into the top five of the Concordia program’s all-time kills list. With a combined 28 kills last week, Opfer has pushed her career total to 1,227. That figure ranks behind only four other past Bulldogs: Becky Ernstmeyer (1,740), Katie Werner (1,600), Paige Getz (1,331) and Rachel Kirchner (1,315). Opfer also ranks sixth on the program’s all-time digs list with 1,277. Meanwhile, Nordaker (career numbers of 861 kills and 329 blocks) is creeping up on the top five for blocks – No. 5 on the school’s list is Renee Vopat with 373 blocks. Another member of the rock-solid senior class like Opfer, Kalee Wiltfong owns 742 career kills.

·        Following the GPAC semifinal victory at Midland, Concordia players acknowledged the 100th victory for Ben and Angie Boldt as leaders of the program. The Boldts took over prior to the start of the 2018 season and have proceeded to lead the Bulldogs to season-by-season win totals of 15, 25, 18, 19 and 23, respectively. From a national perspective, Concordia has never been in a more prominent position. The current NAIA national ranking of No. 4 is a program all-time high. It’s a continuation of successful seasons that have seen the Bulldogs finish with national rankings of 14th in 2019, eighth in 2020 and sixth in 2021.

The final site

The 24 opening round winners will advance to action at the final site, the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Final site volleyball starts with three days of pool play from November 30 – December 2. The top team in each three-team pool will advance to the elimination bracket on Saturday, December 3, the semifinals will be played on Monday, December 5 and the national champion will be crowned Tuesday, December 6 with the first serve set for 7 p.m. CST on ESPN3. For more details on the national championship, visit the NAIA volleyball home page HERE.