Nordaker, stout blocking carry Bulldogs back to GPAC title match

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 9, 2022 in Volleyball

SEWARD, Neb. – It’s back to the GPAC tournament final for the Concordia University Volleyball program. All it took was another white knuckler with Midland to get there. With the help of a showcase performance from middle Gabi Nordaker, the fourth-ranked Bulldogs outlasted the third-ranked Warriors in the conference semifinals, 26-24, 17-25, 21-25, 25-18, 15-10. Nordaker hit .593 from the middle and totaled 13 blocks (two solos, nine assists) as Concordia got it done in hostile territory, the Wikert Event Center in Fremont, Neb.

Head Coach Ben Boldt also led the Bulldogs to the conference final in 2021 and reached 100 wins at Concordia thanks to Wednesday's semifinal triumph. Concordia moved to 23-4 overall this season and also locked up the conference’s second automatic bid to the national tournament.

“We stuck with it through adversity,” Boldt said. “We went for a matchup after that fourth set. I’m not saying that was the whole thing. I thought we got tough mentally and got tough at the net. I think that was difference going into set four and set five. We really played like a championship team … I should give a shout out to Gabi. She had zero errors on 27 swings and 16 kills. That’s a great performance. We’ve really challenged her, especially in these types of matchups against top five teams. She came through.”

It won’t be hard for coaches Ben and Angie Boldt to remember No. 100. Not surprisingly for this type of drag-out match, the Bulldogs had to scratch and claw back after taking a blow. More specifically, Concordia used superior blocking (20-13 advantage in that category) to finally solve the Warriors, who had won both regular season meetings. Riding the hot hand of All-American Taliyah Flores (match high 21 kills), Midland took a two-sets-to-one lead.

In that fourth set, the Warriors must have felt like they were hitting into oak trees. Eight of the Bulldogs’ blocks came in the fourth as the road team began to build momentum. Nordaker combined with Camryn Opfer on point No. 20 and then with Carly Rodaway on point No. 22. Nordaker then put the fourth set to bed with a kill. The Concordia offensive attack then went to work and back-to-back kills from Ashley Keck made it 10-3 in the fifth set. Fittingly – after a Midland comeback attempt – Nordaker and Rodaway rose up for the denial that marked match point.

Said Boldt, “I thought we were really courageous from the service line. We were very purposeful, and we got them out of system. That’s the start of the whole rally and puts us at an advantage. I thought after the third set, our communication got better. It was a lot cleaner in that fourth and fifth set. It’s something we work on every day.”

Midland (25-4) finished with more kills (68-62) than Concordia but could not overcome the 32 hitting errors (many caused by the Bulldogs). Concordia outhit the Warriors, .219 to .188, and got double figure kills from not only Nordaker, but also Opfer (15) and Rodaway (12). Rodaway (10 blocks) joined Nordaker on the stat sheet with a double-double in the kill-block categories. Seven Bulldogs registered at least one block assist on the evening. Setter Bree Burtwistle accumulated 54 assists, nine digs and three blocks and Rebecca Gebhardt posted 21 digs and two aces.

The serving of the likes of Burtwistle, Gebhardt, Lexie Kreizel, Cassidy Knust, Opfer, Kennedy VanScoy and Ashlyn Wischmeier provided a boost. On the other side of the net, Midland tried to make up for the absence of middle Abbey Ringler with the work of Flores and Addisyn Moser (20 kills). Savanna Berger tallied 11 kills and six blocks. Star setter Hope Leimbach notched 66 assists and 10 digs.

The route to the GPAC championship match feels similar to last year when the Bulldogs got past Midland and College of Saint Mary (just like this year, although in reverse order). Concordia now earns another trip to take on No. 2 Jamestown (30-2), which defeated No. 6 Dakota Wesleyan in straight sets in Wednesday’s other semifinal. The Bulldogs will be in Jamestown, N.D., for a 3 p.m. CT first serve in Saturday’s championship battle. Concordia is aiming to win the GPAC tournament title for the first time in program history.