SIOUX CITY, Iowa – A jam-packed Tyson Events Center crowd saw the Concordia University women’s basketball team fall just shy in its first-ever NAIA Division II national title game appearance. Top-ranked Morningside ended the fourth battle of the season between the two GPAC powerhouses with a 6-0 run for a 59-57 victory.
Third-ranked Concordia concludes its season with an overall record of 35-3 (second most wins in program history). Meanwhile, the Mustangs (37-1) celebrated their fourth national championship – all coming since 2004 under the direction of head coach Jamie Sale.
“You don’t talk about the game,” Olson said of the postgame locker room chat. “I just told them how blessed I was to be with those six seniors and how much I love them, how much they meant to this team and this program. I just couldn’t thank them enough.”
Concordia saw a 57-53 lead in the final two minutes slip away. Morningside ultimately pushed ahead with the deciding points when Lexi Ackerman drained a pair of free throws with :1.2 left after Bailey Morris was whistled for a foul on the drive. Morris’ proceeding heave at the buzzer came up well short and a throng of Mustang fans rushed the Tyson Events Center floor.
Ackerman’s free throws completed a comeback from 12 points down in the first half. The Mustangs did not own an advantage until the 12:17 mark of the second half (42-41). Junior post Jessica Tietz served as the key cog in Morningside’s run. Named the tournament MVP, Tietz bullied Concordia inside, going for 17 points and 12 rebounds.
After Jericca Pearson’s put back with 1:57 made it 57-53 in favor of Concordia, Tietz responded with a 3-point play. Her free throw with :55 left then knotted the score. The Bulldogs milked the clock on the ensuing possession that ended when Mary Janovich’s corner three failed to beat the shot clock buzzer. That set the stage for Ackerman’s game-winning free throws.
A rough shooting performance from the outside (6-for-26 from 3-point range) against the Mustang zone doomed Concordia to its third loss of the season against a Morningside team that went undefeated (20-0) during GPAC regular-season action.
In arguably the greatest season in program history, the Bulldogs defeated 13 nationally-ranked teams and won GPAC and CIT tournament championships.
“I’m sure it will settle in later,” Olson said of the team’s accomplishments. “But it’s tough to lose when you felt like you had it.”
In her final collegiate game, Morris dazzled with precision passes that beat dizzied Mustang defenders. She dropped seven dimes in the game’s first 14 minutes. With Morris wheeling and dealing, Concordia raced out to 26-14 lead with under six minutes left in the first half. During the sterling start, Morris assisted four different players.
Named the NAIA Division II women’s basketball national player of the year following the game, Morris finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. She ended her career with 2,054 points, 502 assists and 394 steals. Tracy Peitz, tabbed to the all-tournament team along with Morris, paced the Bulldogs with 15 points while hauling in eight rebounds. In addition, Kelsey Hizer posted 10 points and nine boards and Becky Mueller reeled in 10 rebounds.
The senior class, led by the likes of Hizer, Morris, Pearson and Peitz, finished with a four-year record of 119-21. The group reached the national semifinals twice, qualified for four-straight national tournaments and won two GPAC regular-season titles and a pair of conference tournament titles.
“I’ll probably remember their personalities a whole lot more than them as players,” said an emotional Olson. “I’ll remember how much joy I had coaching each one of them and how much better they made going to work every day. That’s why they’re such a special group.”
Concordia fell despite limiting Morningside to 29.0 percent (20-for-69) shooting from the field. The Mustangs made up for it by making eight more free throw, by posting a plus-11 turnover margin and by owning a 47-40 rebound advantage.
Ackerman joined Tietz as the only two Mustangs in double figures. Ackerman tallied 14 points.
The 2015 event marked 12th time in the past 15 years that a GPAC institution has claimed the national title. All four GPAC teams in this year’s field advanced to the national semifinals. Concordia has made semifinal trips in 2003, 2005, 2012 and 2015.
2015 NAIA Division II All-Tournament
Slone Masters, Briar Cliff (Iowa)
Tracy Peitz, Concordia (Neb.)
Jamie Van Kirk, Hastings (Neb.)
Bailey Morris, Concordia (Neb.)
MVP - Jessica Tietz, Morningside (Iowa)
Brook Ridley, Saint Francis (Ind.)
Morgan Stuut, Saint Xavier (Ill.)
Jessica Buck, Jamestown (N.D.)
Michaela Barry, Hastings (Neb.)
Allison Bachman, Morningside (Iowa)