SEWARD, Neb. – A stretch of four out of five matches at home continues this week as Concordia University Volleyball takes center stage during homecoming week on campus. The second-ranked Bulldogs will welcome Mount Marty to town on Wednesday before hosting Dordt on Saturday. Those two sides will put Concordia’s unblemished record to the test. Head Coach Ben Boldt’s squad moved to 11-0 (4-0 GPAC) with wins last week over Doane (three sets) and No. 9 College of Saint Mary (four sets).
By the numbers
· The number of undefeated teams across the NAIA landscape has shrunk to three. No. 1 Eastern Oregon University (12-1) was upset in five sets by unranked Northwest University (Wash.) in one of the big surprises of last week. The three remaining unbeaten squads are Concordia (11-0), Columbia International University (S.C.) (14-0) and Indiana Wesleyan University (12-0). The most recent NAIA coaches’ poll was released on Sept. 13. The Bulldogs held steady at No. 2 (behind Eastern Oregon) and reeled in three first-place votes. The next national poll is scheduled to be unveiled on Sept. 27. Should Concordia hold serve at home this week, it could climb to No. 1 in the nation for the first time in program history.
· The 2023 résumé includes not only a sparkling 11-0 record, but also features three wins over teams ranked in the NAIA top 10 at the time matches were contested. The Bulldogs have beaten No. 6 Park University (Mo.), No. 9 Midland and No. 9 College of Saint Mary. Concordia also owns wins over then 11th-ranked MidAmerica Nazarene University (Kan.) and then 24th-ranked Hastings. According to Massey Ratings, the Bulldogs have played the nation’s 27th most challenging schedule. Massey judges Concordia to be the No. 1 team in the NAIA with Indiana Wesleyan at No. 2, Northwestern at No. 3, Viterbo University (Wis.) at No. 4 and Eastern Oregon at No. 5.
· In last week’s action, the Bulldogs took care of Doane in short order, 25-11, 25-14, 25-14, and have won 10 of the past 11 meetings with the rival to the southeast. Once putting that one in the win column, Concordia was able to shift its focus to the anticipated road clash with No. 9 College of Saint Mary. The Bulldogs shook off a loss in the first set and took the match, 25-27, 25-20, 25-16, 25-20, in Omaha. It was a match about getting gritty defensively with long rallies a major theme. Concordia got double-digit kill outings from Ashley Keck (16), Camryn Opfer (15) and Carly Rodaway (14). Rodaway hit .520 from the outside. Meanwhile, there were five Bulldogs who posted at least 10 digs: Becca Gebhardt (23), Bree Burtwistle (20), Keck (12), Cassidy Knust (10) and Opfer (10). Gabi Nordaker got in on seven blocks.
· Burtwistle leads a powerful offensive attack that ranks second nationally with a .303 hitting percentage. Among GPAC teams, Concordia ranks first in hitting percentage, first in kills per set (14.62), second in aces per set (1.92), fourth in blocks per set (1.93) and ninth in digs per set (16.43). On the conference individual leaderboards, Burtwistle ranks No. 1 in assists per set (11.35), Nordaker ranks third in hitting percentage (.356), Rodaway ranks fourth in hitting percentage (.323) and Keck ranks fourth in kills per set (3.61).
· A number of Bulldogs are nearing career milestones as Nordaker enters the week with 990 kills, Opfer owns 1,434 digs, Burtwistle possesses 2,487 assists and Gebhardt has accumulated 940 digs. The Seward High School product Opfer sports program all-time rankings of third in kills (1,363) and fifth in digs. Meanwhile, Nordaker is on the cusp of becoming the 10th player in school history to rack up at least 1,000 kills. The 1,211 assists accumulated by Burtwistle in 2022 were the sixth most in a single season by a Bulldog.
· Coach Ben Boldt’s record at Concordia has moved to 113-43, which translates to a .724 winning percentage. At 11-0, the 2023 Bulldogs are one win away from equaling the best undefeated start during the tenure of Ben and Angie Boldt (2018-present). The 2018 and 2019 squads both started 12-0 before enduring their first losses. The program’s longest unbeaten run to begin a campaign remains the 18-0 start by the 2005 squad.
At 9-8 overall (2-2 GPAC), Mount Marty has shown significant improvement as compared to its 7-19 overall mark (2-14 GPAC) in 2022. Head Coach Belen Albertos’ squad has picked up GPAC wins over Doane and Hastings. In this past week of action, the Lancers went 0-3 and dropped straight sets decisions to College of Saint Mary and Midland. Sophomore outside hitter Julia Weber ranks fifth among GPAC players with an average of 3.57 kills per set (214 total kills). As a program, Concordia has won 19 straight meetings with the Lancers (dating back to 2008).
Dordt reached the national tournament six times during the 2015 through 2021 seasons and then missed out on a bid in 2022. The Defenders placed as the national runner up in 2016 and 2017. This year’s squad has slipped to 1-9 (0-4 GPAC) with the lone win coming over Mount Mercy University (Iowa). Jacki Smith is in her second season as head coach. She took over for Chad Hanson, who moved into the head coaching role for the Dordt men’s volleyball program. Through 10 matches this season, the Defenders are hitting .148 with an average of 12.30 kills per set while their opponents are hitting .218 with an average of 12.43 kills per set. Riley Doenhoefer paces the team with 114 kills.
The Bulldogs will have the middle of next week off while preparing for a Sioux City road trip. Concordia is slated to take on Briar Cliff (Sept. 29) and Morningside (Sept. 30) on the road to end the month of September.