HONOLULU, Hawaii – The past two days have featured moments of brilliance and moments when the 22nd-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team learned it has room to grow. The Bulldogs competed with another of the NAIA’s highest rated teams, owning a lead midway through the third quarter before No. 3 Thomas More University (Ky.) exerted its will in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday (Dec. 19). The Saints outscored Concordia, 41-19, over the game’s final 17 minutes and won, 84-67.
Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad also took on top-ranked Campbellsville University (Ky.) on Saturday as part of a two-game run at the Hoop N Surf Classic in Honolulu. The Bulldogs will come back home at 8-6 overall while having played one of the nation’s most challenging schedules to date.
“Thomas More is really, really good,” Olson said. “They’re very sound and balanced. I loved how we came out at the start of the first quarter and third quarter. We’re just not quite there yet. We’re still learning what it takes to be an elite team – and that’s what we played the last two games. Those are teams that are extremely experienced. We’re still growing as a team. When you play a team like this, you have a few lapses and it costs you.”
There were spurts that showed Concordia’s potential for matching up with an opponent like Thomas More. The Bulldogs rattled off the game’s first eight points, led by as many as 11 points and also started hot after halftime with the help of Rylee Pauli. The Omaha native banked four points and assisted a Taysha Rushton trey as part of a 12-2 run that put Concordia in front, 48-43, early in the third quarter. Pauli finished with 16 points and six rebounds.
However, it was all Thomas More (12-1) from that point on. Just like the Bulldogs, the Saints can hit their foes with a strong wave of players off the bench. Thomas More wore down Concordia with its balance. Six Saints reached double figures with Zoie Barth and Courtney Hurst leading the way at 14 points apiece. The national runner up last season, Thomas More starts three players who were named to the 2021 all-national tournament team.
Rushton joined Pauli in double figures with 13 on 4-for-12 shooting. A day after notching her first career double-double, Kayla Luebbe paced the bench with nine points (3-for-5 from the floor). Similar to Saturday, the Bulldogs did not shoot with great efficiency. They finished Sunday’s contest at 36.2 percent (compared to 44.8 percent by the Saints) and struggled from the foul line (15-for-27). Thomas More also owned a 44-36 advantage in rebounding.
The aim is to build upon these games and for the Bulldogs to round into form after New Year’s. Said Olson, “This is by far the toughest 14 games that we’ve ever been through. I think it’s great for our team. I think it’s great for them to see what’s out there and see how close we are. We’ve been right there with Campbellsville and the really good teams in the GPAC. I know this team is so close and if we just keep fine-tuning some things and work together, I think we’re in for an awesome second semester. I think our players believe that too.”
The team will have the full day in Hawaii on Monday to take in more sights and experiences. It had also planned a luau for Sunday night. Added Olson, “We take these trips to see what the elite teams are like and to go experience something. Most of our players will probably never come back to Hawaii. We want them to live it up and have fun.”
Next time the Bulldogs take the court, the calendar will have flipped to 2022. After a break for Christmas, Concordia will focus its attention upon a New Year’s Day clash with Doane (7-7, 2-5 GPAC) in a matchup that will tip off at 2 p.m. CT from Friedrich Arena. The Bulldogs have won each of the past 10 meetings with the Tigers.