Pool Play Preview: Concordia prepping for Hastings, Park

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 22, 2022 in Volleyball

SEWARD, Neb. – One of 24 teams still standing, Concordia University Volleyball is about ready to head to the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, for the final site of the 2022 NAIA Volleyball National Championship. The Bulldogs are familiar to the Tyson Events Center, having taken center stage in that venue in each of the previous three seasons. Head Coach Ben Boldt’s program has now won nine national tournament matches since the start of the 2019 season after it defeated Florida College at home in the opening round.

As the top seed in Pool D of the national tournament, Concordia will take on Hastings on Wednesday, Nov. 30 and 13th-ranked Park University (Mo.) on Friday, Dec. 2. 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. 3.


--Full Pool Play Schedule

(4) Concordia (24-5) vs. Hastings (20-13)
Wednesday, Nov. 30 | 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)
Buy Tickets: TysonEventsCenter.com

(4) Concordia (24-5) vs. (13) Park (27-5)
Friday, Dec. 2 | 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)
Buy Tickets: TysonEventsCenter.com

By the numbers

·        For the second year in a row, and for the third time in program history, the Bulldogs earned the right to host in the opening round as they welcomed Florida College to Seward on Nov. 19. In a match that lasted just over an hour, Concordia defeated the visitors from the Tampa, Fla., area, 25-9, 25-10, 25-21, and finished the 2022 home slate with a record of 11-1 inside Friedrich Arena. Camryn Opfer enjoyed a big day in the victory as she totaled 14 kills and 16 digs and hit .394 from the outside. As a team, Concordia outhit the Falcons, .294 to .054. In addition, Bree Burtwistle added 36 assists, nine digs and five kills while Gabi Nordaker produced eight kills on nine swings. Rebecca Gebhardt contributed 14 digs and three aces.

·        The Bulldogs are officially in the midst of their fifth all-time national tournament appearance. Each of the program’s nine 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 are Jamestown, Missouri Baptist and Northwestern). Both Camryn Opfer and Kalee Wiltfong have appeared in four straight national tournaments. Others on the roster with prior 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. Opfer has twice been named to the NAIA National Championship All-Tournament Team.

·        Concordia statistical leaders by category this season are: Gabi Nordaker in kills (304), hitting percentage (.356) and blocks (102), Bree Burtwistle in aces (1,119) and Rebecca Gebhardt in digs (459) and aces (27). There are four Bulldogs who have notched at least 250 kills: Nordaker, Camryn Opfer (293), Ashley Keck (256) and Carly Rodaway (250). On Nov. 15, six Concordia players were recognized with all-conference awards: Nordaker (first team), Opfer (first team), Burtwistle (second team), Rodaway (second team), Gebhardt (honorable mention) and Keck (honorable mention). Keck was also named the GPAC Freshman of the Year. Opfer has pushed her career totals to 1,241 kills and 1,293 digs. Opfer’s kill total ranks fifth best in school history behind Becky Ernstmeyer (1,740), Katie Werner (1,600), Paige Getz (1,331) and Rachel Kirchner (1,315).

·        Seven GPAC teams hosted opening round matches and all seven advanced to play at the final site of the national tournament. Six GPAC squads were ranked in the NAIA’s final regular season top 25: No. 2 Jamestown, No. 3 Midland, No. 4 Concordia, No. 6 Dakota Wesleyan, No. 8 Northwestern and No. 15 College of Saint Mary. Hastings landed as the first team out of the top 25. At the 2021 national tournament, three GPAC teams reached the quarterfinals: Concordia, Jamestown and Northwestern. The previous year (2020), five GPAC squads advanced to the quarterfinals. The most recent GPAC member to win the NAIA national title was Hastings in 2016.

·        The success on the national stage for the Bulldogs is a continuation of recent years. Concordia has appeared inside the NAIA top 25 in 24 of the past 26 coaches’ polls (also received votes when not appearing in the top 25). The current national ranking of No. 4 is the highest for Concordia in the history of the program. The Bulldogs will finish as a nationally ranked team for the fourth year in a row. Concordia concluded the previous three seasons with postseason national rankings of 14th in 2019, eighth in 2020 and sixth in 2021. For the ’22 squad to break new ground for the program at the national tournament, it will need to reach at least the semifinal round.

·        BONUS: 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.). Each of those foes reached the final site with the exception of Park Gilbert and Texas Wesleyan.

The opponents

Hastings is back at the national tournament for the first time since 2018 and for the 14th time in program history. The Broncos narrowly got past Texas Wesleyan University, 16-25, 26-24, 25-23, 10-25, 17-15, in the opening round. Head Coach Alex Allard’s squad is led by Second Team All-GPAC libero Miriam Miller and honorable mention all-conference recipients in setter Makenna Asher and middle blocker Amani Monroe. As a team, Hastings is hitting .204 while allowing its opponents to hit .179. The Bulldogs and Broncos met twice during the regular season with Concordia winning in straight sets in both instances.

Park placed as the 2021 NAIA national runner up after it was defeated in the national championship match by Missouri Baptist. The Pirates won the national title as recently as 2018 and are appearing at nationals for the 10th time. Head Coach Michael Talamantes’ squad landed seven players on the 2022 Heart of America Athletic Conference all-conference teams. Outside hitter Malaina Hensley was named the HAAC Player of the Year and Jullia Alvarez was recognized as the HAAC Setter of the Year. Concordia and Park have not played each other since the 2008 season when the Bulldogs won in five sets in a match that took place in Hastings, Neb.

Bracket play
The winners from each of the eight pools will advance to bracket play on Dec. 3, which begins with the NAIA national quarterfinals. The semifinals will follow on Dec. 5 with the national championship match taking place on Dec. 6. All matches will be played at the Tyson Events Center.

Concordia National Tournament History

--All-time record of 9-5 in five 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