NAIA Pool Play: Concordia placed in Pool D along with Midland, Montana Western

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 19, 2023 in Volleyball

SEWARD, Neb. – The NAIA Volleyball National Championship field has been trimmed to 24 teams following Saturday (Nov. 18)’s opening round action. The fourth-ranked Bulldogs are headed to the final site of the national tournament for the fifth-straight year after they cruised past Judson University (Ill.) in straight sets. On Sunday, the NAIA revealed pool play assignments for action that will begin at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, on Nov. 29. Head Coach Ben Boldt’s squad was seeded fourth and landed in Pool D. There are eight pools that each contain three teams.

As the top seed in Pool D of the national tournament, Concordia will take on No. 21 University of Montana Western on Wednesday, Nov. 29 and No. 13 Midland on Friday, Dec. 1. Both contests are scheduled for 1 p.m. CT first serves. The winners of each of the eight pools will advance to bracket play, which begins with the quarterfinals on Dec. 2.


--Full Pool Play Schedule

(4) Concordia (24-3) vs. (21) Montana Western (22-6)
Wednesday, Nov. 29 | 1 p.m. CST
Tyson Events Center | Sioux City, Iowa (Court 2)
Webcast: NAIA Network
Live Stats: Presto Stats
Radio: 104.9 Max Country (Frank Greene/Katie Funk)
Buy Tickets:

(4) Concordia (24-3) vs. (13) Midland (16-11)
Friday, Dec. 1 | 1 p.m. CST
Tyson Events Center | Sioux City, Iowa (Court 2)
Webcast: NAIA Network
Live Stats: Presto Stats
Radio: 104.9 Max Country (Frank Greene/Katie Funk)
Buy Tickets:

By the numbers

·        For the third year in a row, and for the fourth time in program history, the Bulldogs earned the right to host in the opening round as they welcomed Judson to Seward on Nov. 18. The Eagles of Elgin, Ill., hung tough in the opening set and were tied, 17-17, before Concordia kicked it into gear. The Bulldogs turned in respective hitting percentages by set of .132, .317 and .379 and won the match, 25-19, 25-14, 25-17. In the final home match of her fine career, Seward High School product Camryn Opfer filled the stat sheet with 11 kills, 12 digs, three aces and three blocks. Four of her teammates contributed at least five kills: Gabi Nordaker (nine), Ashley Keck (eight), Sara Huss (five) and Carly Rodaway. In addition to Opfer, four Concordia players collected nine or more digs: Keck (12), Cassidy Knust (11), Bree Burtwistle (nine) and Becca Gebhardt (nine). Burtwistle tallied 32 assists and an ace. Judson made its first-ever national tournament appearance and finished the 2023 season at 23-5 overall.

·        The Bulldogs are officially in the midst of their sixth all-time national tournament appearance. Each of the program’s 11 national tournament wins have come since Ben and Angie Boldt arrived at Concordia prior to the start of the 2018 season. The program’s first ever national tournament win occurred in 2019 when the Bulldogs defeated No. 19 Montana Tech in four sets. Concordia reached bracket play at the national tournament in 2019, 2020 and 2021 making it one of four programs in the NAIA to accomplish that feat (the others were Jamestown, Missouri Baptist and Northwestern). Concordia was upset by No. 13 Park University (Mo.) in 2022 with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line. Opfer has played a major role in each of the past four national tournament runs to the final site. Others with on-court national tournament experience (prior to the 2023 opening round) are Rebecca Gebhardt, Ashley Keck, Addie Kirkegaard, Cassidy Knust, Lexie Kreizel, Carly Rodaway, and Ashlyn Wischmeier.

·        Concordia statistical leaders by category this season are: Ashley Keck in kills (311), Gabi Nordaker in hitting percentage (.337) and blocks (106), Bree Burtwistle in assists (1,080) and aces (30) and Rebecca Gebhardt in digs (377). There are four Bulldogs who have notched at least 200 kills: Keck, Camryn Opfer (272), Nordaker (250) and Carly Rodaway (207). On Nov. 14, seven Concordia players were recognized with all-conference awards: Burtwistle (first team), Nordaker (first team), Opfer (first team), Keck (second team), Rodaway (second team), Gebhardt (honorable mention) and Cassidy Knust (honorable mention). Burtwistle received especially high honors in being recognized as the GPAC Setter of the Year, an award never before earned by a Bulldog. Opfer has garnered five career all-conference awards, including three first team mentions and two second team accolades. Nordaker has also pulled in three career first team accolades. The Kearney native Keck moved up to the second team in 2023 after being named the 2022 GPAC Freshman of the Year.

·        Six GPAC teams qualified for the 2023 national tournament and five of them hosted in the opening round. Four GPAC teams won in the opening round: No. 1 Northwestern, No. 4 Concordia, No. 10 Jamestown and No. 13 Midland. Meanwhile, 16th-ranked College of Saint Mary was upset at home by unranked St. Ambrose University (Iowa) and Morningside fell at the hands of No. 14 Indiana University Kokomo in the opening round. The GPAC has consistently performed at a high level on the national stage. Jamestown claimed the 2022 NAIA national title as one of three GPAC squads to reach the national quarterfinals. The Jimmies were the first national champions out of the GPAC since Hastings in 2016.

·        National tournament time is Camryn Opfer time. She has now played in 16 of the program’s 17 all-time national tournament matches. In those 16 outings, Opfer has totaled program national tournament records of 206 kills and 243 digs. She was named to the National Championship All-Tournament Team in both 2020 and 2021. Previous national tournament trips during Opfer’s career resulted in Concordia reaching the round of 16 in 2019, the quarterfinals in 2020 and 2021 and pool play in 2022. Nordaker has also been a key figure in each of the last three national tournaments. As part of the 2021 run, Nordaker posted 15 kills and seven blocks in a four-set win over Oregon Tech.

·        Concordia has entered the final site as the No. 4 seed for the second year in a row. Lofty national rankings have become the norm for the program. The Bulldogs have appeared inside the NAIA top 25 in 31 of the past 33 coaches’ polls (also received votes when not appearing in the top 25). This fall, Concordia rose to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history. It landed at No. 1 in the NAIA coaches’ polls released on Sept. 27 and Oct. 11. The Bulldogs will finish as a nationally ranked team for the fifth year in a row. Concordia concluded the previous four seasons with national rankings of 14th in 2019, eighth in 2020, sixth in 2021 and fourth in 2022. For the Bulldogs to break new ground in 2023, in terms of national tournament advancement, they will need to reach at least the national semifinal round.

·        Concordia owns wins over seven teams that qualified for the 2023 national tournament: College of Saint Mary, Jamestown (twice), Kansas Wesleyan University, Midland (twice), Morningside, Park and Rocky Mountain College (Mont.). Three of those squads will appear in Sioux City the week after Thanksgiving. Six GPAC teams qualified for the national tournament and four of them advanced to the final site.

The opponents

(13) Midland – A national semifinalist in 2022, the Warriors are seeded 13th at the final site. Each of Midland’s 10 all-time national tournament appearances have come during the tenure of Head Coach Paul Giesselmann. Midland is back in this position after saying goodbye to All-Americans Taliyah Flores and Hope Leimbach from the high achieving 2022 squad. The ’23 team has been led by the likes of All-GPAC honorees in Abbey Ringler (first team), Jacki Apel (second team), Lauryn Samuelson (honorable mention) and Lauren Williams (honorable mention). Ringler tops the attack with 248 kills and a .220 hitting percentage. The Warriors employ a two-setter system featuring Brena Mackling (576 assists) and Brielle Power (533 assists). Midland has hit .182 this season while limiting its opponents to a .133 hitting percentage. Giesselmann’s group got past Kansas Wesleyan in four sets in the opening round. In the two 2023 regular season meetings, the Bulldogs defeated the Warriors in straight sets in Seward and in four sets in Fremont. This will be the first time the two sides have met on the national tournament stage.

(21) Montana Western – The Bulldogs of Dillon, Mont., qualified for the national tournament as the Frontier Conference tournament champions. Montana Western traveled to No. 19 Southwestern Assemblies of God University (Texas) in the opening round and emerged as a straight-sets winner. The Bulldogs are making their eighth all-time national tournament appearance and their first since 1987. The stout Montana Western attack boasts five hitters with more than 200 kills: Jazi Smith (289), Jordan Olson (245), Danyel Martin (238), Kaylee Kopp (236) and Peyton Vogl (218). First Team All-Frontier Conference honors went to Martin, Olson and Smith. As a team, Montana Western has hit .203 while its opponents have hit .132. Concordia and Montana Western last went up against each other in 2016 when Concordia earned a win in four sets at the Hastings Invitational.

Bracket play
The winners from each of the eight pools will advance to bracket play on Dec. 2, which begins with the NAIA national quarterfinals. The semifinals will follow on Dec. 4 with the national championship match taking place on Dec. 5. All matches will be played at the Tyson Events Center.

Concordia National Tournament History

--All-time record of 11-6 in six appearances.

Opening Round – L, 0-3 vs. Olivet Nazarene (Ill.)

Pool Play – W, 3-1 vs. No. 19 Montana Tech
Pool Play – W, 3-0 vs. Saint Mary (Kan.)
Pool Play – L, 2-3 vs. No. 3 Indiana Wesleyan
RD of 16 – L, 0-3 vs. No. 4 Missouri Baptist

Opening Round – W, 3-1 at Xavier (La.)
Pool Play – W, 3-2 vs. Lindsey Wilson (Ky.)
Pool Play – W, 3-1 vs. No. 7 Marian (Ind.)
Quarterfinals – L, 0-3 vs. No. 16 Dordt

Opening Round – W, 3-0 vs. Ave Maria (Fla.)
Pool Play – W, 3-1 vs. No. 25 Oregon Tech
Pool Play – W, 3-2 vs. No. 2 Viterbo (Wis.)
Quarterfinals – L, 2-3 vs. No. 7 Marian (Ind.)

Opening Round – W, 3-0 vs. Florida College
Pool Play – W, 3-1 vs. Hastings
Pool Play – L, 1-3 vs. No. 13 Park (Mo.)

Opening Round – W, 3-0 vs. Judson (Ill.)