2023 GPAC WBB Semifinal Preview: Concordia at Briar Cliff

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 22, 2023 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – For the 10th time in 12 seasons, the Concordia University Women’s Basketball program has reached the semifinal round of the GPAC tournament. The sixth-seeded Bulldogs scrambled to travel to Jamestown, N.D., a day early and emerged with a 73-67 win over the third-seeded Jimmies. That victory sets up a semifinal road game at No. 2 seed Briar Cliff, which squeaked past intra-city rival Morningside, 85-82, in overtime in the quarterfinals. Saturday’s tipoff from the Newman Flanagan Center in Sioux City, Iowa, is slated for 3 p.m. CT. Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad has moved to 19-10 overall this season.

This Week

GPAC Quarterfinals – def. No. 19 Jamestown, 73-67
--Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Newman Arena (Jamestown, N.D.)

GPAC Semifinals – Saturday, Feb. 25 at No. 18 Briar Cliff (22-7), 3 p.m.
--Webcast | Live Stats | 104.9 Max Country | Location: Newman Flanagan Center (Sioux City, Iowa)

By the numbers

·        All four GPAC quarterfinal women’s basketball games were played on Tuesday night. The lone upset, based on seeding, was the one claimed by the Bulldogs. Elsewhere, No. 1 Dordt defeated No. 8 Doane, 80-64, No. 4 Dakota Wesleyan held off No. 5 Northwestern, 69-62, and No. 2 Briar Cliff edged No. 7 Morningside, 85-82, in overtime. Dakota Wesleyan is the defending GPAC tournament champion after having toppled Morningside, 83-60, in the 2022 GPAC final. The 2022-23 GPAC regular season champion, Dordt will attempt to sweep conference titles, a feat achieved recently by Morningside in 2020-21 and by Concordia in each of the 2016-17 through 2019-20 campaigns.

·        One more win would give the Bulldogs 20 for the season, a mark Drew Olson has hit in 13 of his first 16 seasons as head coach at his alma mater. Tuesday’s win at Jamestown marked No. 442 in the career of Olson. He’s begun to sneak up on former Bulldog men’s basketball head coach Grant Schmidt for the most wins ever by a Concordia basketball coach (or for any sport at Concordia). Schmidt compiled a record of 445-276 over his 23-year tenure. Olson played for Schmidt during the 2000-01 through 2002-03 seasons. Counting Olson’s three seasons as a Bulldog student-athlete, he’s been involved in 504 victories (62 wins as a player).

·        If there was any doubt about whether Concordia was a national tournament team, that was likely erased with Tuesday’s win. The Bulldogs picked up another quality win while adding to a season profile that included an RPI ranking of 32nd and a strength of schedule rank of 25th, according to the NAIA’s official metrics. Based on the RPI, the win at Jamestown was the best this season for Concordia. Jamestown’s RPI was No. 28 as of mid-February. Last season, the GPAC was rewarded with two national tournament auto qualifiers (Morningside and DWU) and four at-large selections (Briar Cliff, Concordia, Dordt and Northwestern). The conference appears to be in line for another six – and possibly seven – bids in 2023.

·        Taysha Rushton leads the team in scoring with an average of 14.1 points per game (1,368 career points). The next three highest scoring averages on the team are remarkably similar: Brigham (9.9), Krieser (9.9) and Sadie Powell (9.8). Brigham has come off the bench for all 29 games this season, but she’s like having a sixth starter in terms of the minutes she’s played (24.2 per game). The Wahoo, Neb., native excels in all areas thanks to her athleticism, quickness and shooting ability. Brigham sports strong shooting percentages across the board: 44.8 from the floor, 42.2 from 3-point range and 75.4 from the foul line. As a team, the Bulldogs rank fourth nationally in free throw percentage (.770).

·        Last season, Concordia went on the road for the GPAC quarterfinals and fell at Dakota Wesleyan, 68-52. However, the program has had a history of success in the conference tournament under Olson’s direction. During Olson’s tenure, the Bulldogs have celebrated GPAC tournament championships in 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. In addition, Concordia was the conference tournament runner up in 2021. From 2017 leading up to the GPAC tourney title game of 2021, the program won 14-straight GPAC tournament contests. Over the previous 11 seasons, the Bulldogs have reached at least the GPAC semifinal round nine times. Prior to Olson’s hiring, Todd Voss steered Concordia to a GPAC postseason championship in 2005.

·        A couple of Bulldogs were honored on Tuesday by College Sports Communicators (formerly titled College Sports Information Directors of America). CSC named Kendal Brigham and Sadie Powell to its 2022-23 Academic All-District® Team. The honor requires at least a 3.5 cumulative grade-point average while factoring in both academic and athletic success. Brigham and Powell have also both been tabbed NAIA Scholar-Athletes. Brigham is studying Secondary Education while Powell is majoring in Biology.

The opponents

Briar Cliff managed to escape the GPAC quarterfinals by getting past rival Morningside in overtime. The Chargers were paced by their brightest star in Konnor Sudmann, who posted 19 points and five rebounds. Briar Cliff was able to send the game to overtime via a couple of blocked shots in the final seconds. Head Coach Brian Ortmeier’s squad now stands at 11-2 at home this season and has bumped up to No. 18 in the latest NAIA coaches’ poll. No matter the result on Saturday, the Chargers are a lock to reach the national tournament while following the lead of a veteran starting five. Sudmann, Madelyn Deitchler and Peyton Wingert (Midland transfer) were each named either first or second team all-conference last season. The team’s two other starters, Kennedy Benne and Payton Slaughter, garnered honorable mention recognition. On Saturday, Briar Cliff will be attempting to defeat Concordia for the third time this season. The Chargers won the two regular season meetings, triumphing by scores of 87-76 in Sioux City and 56-51 in Seward.

Probable starters

Concordia (19-10, 14-8 GPAC)
G – Abby Krieser (9.9)
G – Taysha Rushton (14.1)
G – Mackenzie Toomey (6.4)
F – Abby Heemstra (5.1)
F – Sadie Powell (9.8)

Head Coach: Drew Olson (442-131, 17th season at CUNE)

Briar Cliff (22-7, 17-5 GPAC)
G – Kennedy Benne (11.5)
G – Payton Slaughter (9.8)
G – Konnor Sudmann (17.9)
F – Peyton Wingert (7.9)
C – Madelyn Deitchler (13.4)

Head Coach: Brian Ortmeier (1st season)

2023 GPAC Women’s Basketball Tournament

Quarterfinals – Tuesday, Feb. 21
(1) Dordt def. (8) Doane, 80-64
(4) Dakota Wesleyan def. (5) Northwestern, 69-62
(6) Concordia def. (3) Jamestown, 73-67
(2) Briar Cliff def. (7) Morningside, 85-82 (OT)

Semifinals – Saturday, Feb. 25
(4) Dakota Wesleyan at (1) Dordt, 3 p.m.
(6) Concordia at (2) Briar Cliff, 3 p.m.

Championship – Tuesday, Feb. 28
Highest remaining seed hosts, time TBA