Concordia set to collide with two traditional league powers in first week of GPAC play

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 13, 2023 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – It’ll be two matchups between perennial league powerhouses as the 11th-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team opens league play. Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad has been idle since winning a pair of games at the Cattle Classic (Nov. 3-4) over 2023 national qualifying opponents. In other words, the Bulldogs will be well-rested as they look forward to hosting Morningside on Wednesday and then traveling to Northwestern on Saturday. The trip to Orange City, Iowa, will mark Concordia’s first road outing of the campaign.

This Week

Wednesday, Nov. 15 vs. Morningside (3-1, 0-0 GPAC), 6 p.m.
--Max Country | Live Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Friedrich Arena (Seward, Neb.)

Saturday, Nov. 18 at Northwestern (3-1, 0-0 GPAC), 5 p.m.
--Max Country | Live Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Bultman Center (Orange City, Iowa)

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By the numbers

·        The wins at the Cattle Classic came over Sterling College (Kan.), 95-72, and then fifth-ranked Marian University (Ind.), 75-62. The win over Marian in particular resulted in the Bulldogs vaulting upward in the first NAIA coaches’ poll of the regular season. Concordia landed at No. 11 with the release of the Nov. 8 poll. It’s a lofty perch for a Bulldog squad that did not crack the top 25 during the entirety of the 2022-23 season. However, high national rankings are nothing new for Olson’s program. Concordia has appeared at No. 21 or higher at some point in 16 of Olson’s 18 seasons at the helm of the program. The Bulldogs spent portions of the 2012-13, 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons carrying the No. 1 ranking in NAIA Division II.

·        The 2-0 weekend at the Cattle Classic displayed a Concordia squad that is back to playing exactly the way Olson likes it – ultra-fast and with 40 minutes of full-court pressure. The Bulldogs flustered Sterling and Marian into a combined 54 turnovers. Kendal Brigham and Mackenzie Toomey led the way from a thievery standpoint with five steals apiece over the first two outings. Concordia won those games by an average score of 85.0 to 66.0. They shot 43.4 percent from the floor, 25.9 percent from 3-point range and 80.6 percent from the foul line. Five Concordia players scored at least 20 points at the Cattle Classic: Taysha Rushton (35), Brigham (23), Abby Krieser (22), Sammy Leu (22) and Sadie Powell (20).

·        This is year four for Rushton and a class of Bulldog teammates that includes Brigham, Powell, Hanna Spearman and Toomey. A native of Midland, Texas, Rushton has earned three First Team All-GPAC awards and has been named an NAIA Honorable Mention All-American in back-to-back seasons. In 94 career collegiate games, Rushton has tallied 1,443 points, 283 rebounds, 257 assists, 153 steals and 221 3-point field goals. Rushton has moved up to No. 13 on the program’s all-time scoring list. There are currently 11 players in the history of program to have hit 1,500 career points. Rushton has played in three national tournaments and personally mentions the 2021 win over Marian in the national round of 16 as her favorite college game to this point.

·        The senior class is a major reason why Olson believes the Bulldogs are positioned to enjoy another special season. While Rushton grabs her share of headlines, her classmates have put together fine careers of their own. The career point totals for other fourth-year Bulldogs are 693 or Powell, 560 for Brigham and 508 for Toomey. Collectively, the foursome of Rushton, Powell, Brigham and Toomey have appeared in a combined 350 games. Their presence gives Olson one of the more experienced teams he’s had in several years.

·        The upperclassmen set the example for the new faces on the roster. Through the first two games, five freshmen have made their collegiate debuts: Bree Bunting, JJ Jones, Raelyn Kelty, Sammy Leu and Mia Wiederin. A Wahoo High School product, Leu made a major splash in her first college game as she netted four treys in a span of less than two minutes in the win over Sterling. Leu racked up 20 points in making a tremendous first impression. Olson expects to see their roles increase as they become more comfortable. The program’s preferred up-tempo pace lends to regular substitutions.

·        The win count for Drew Olson in his head coaching tenure has reached 445. That number puts him even with his former college head coach at Concordia, Grant Schmidt, for the most coaching victories in the history of Concordia Athletics, regardless of sport. Schmidt was the one who took a chance on a young Olson prior to the 2006-07 season. As men’s basketball coach and AD, Schmidt hired Olson to lead the women’s basketball program. Olson had previously served as a graduate assistant coach for Bellevue University men’s basketball but had never before coached a women’s team. Olson’s remarkable career reached the pinnacle in 2019 when the program celebrated its first ever national championship.

The opponents

Morningside went 17-13 last season and earned one of the final at-large berths to the national tournament. The Mustangs have long been regarded as an NAIA powerhouse under the direction of Head Coach Jamie Sale, who began his Morningside tenure in 2001. Sale has guided the program to four national titles and has won more than 600 games as an NAIA women’s basketball coach. Sale’s 2023-24 team has started 3-1 with wins over Kansas Wesleyan University, 75-74, Bethany College (Kan.), 71-48, and Benedictine College (Kan.), 73-58. The one defeat came against Grand View University (Iowa), 72-58. The Mustangs graduated First Team All-GPAC honoree Sophia Peppers from last season’s team. They return Honorable Mention All-GPAC award winners Chloe Lofstrom and Alexis Spier. There will be a familiar face on Morningside’s bench as Sale’s staff includes Concordia alum Faith Troshynski as an assistant.

Northwestern placed in a tie for fifth in the GPAC last season and qualified for the national tournament. Kristin Rotert is in her third season as the program’s head coach. Rotert brings back All-GPAC players in guard Maddie Jones (first team) and forward Molly Schany (second team). The Red Raiders have opend this season at 3-1 with the wins coming over Indiana University Northwest, 63-52, Trinity Christian College (Ill.), 87-54, and University of Saint Mary (Kan.), 78-68. The loss came at home this past weekend to Mayville State University (N.D.), 87-81. Northwestern received votes in the NAIA coaches’ poll released last week. In their history, the Red Raiders have qualified for the national tournament 19 times and have won five national titles.

Next week

The Bulldogs will be in action once during the week of Thanksgiving as they are slated to head to Omaha, Neb., to take on College of Saint Mary on Nov. 21.