SEWARD, Neb. – The ninth-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team will have had a week off from game action by the time the ball is tipped off in Sioux City, Iowa, on Saturday. After just three nonconference outings, Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad will venture into GPAC play while taking on Briar Cliff. Most recently, the Bulldogs split a pair of matchups with ranked opponents at the 22nd annual Cattle Classic (Nov. 5-6).
By the numbers
· The early season schedule should have the Bulldogs well-prepared for the start of conference play. Each of their first three opponents are either ranked or receiving votes in the NAIA national poll. Concordia has defeated Bellevue University (RV), 77-71, and No. 13 Dakota State University (S.D.), 88-80, while having been defeated by No. 18 Sterling College (Kan.), 84-66. The Bulldogs are 2-1 despite shooting percentages (36.6 from the floor and 25.8 from 3-point range) that should rise as the season transpires. As usual, Concordia forces many more turnovers than it commits. It owns a positive turnover margin of plus-20 (55-35) through three outings.
· One thing is clear early on – Taysha Rushton will have the green light to fire away. The Midland, Texas, native might already be one of the most dynamic scorers in all of the NAIA. She poured in a career high 32 points in the season opener and followed it up with 19 points versus Sterling and 17 versus Dakota State. As a freshman in 2020-21, Rushton averaged 14.4 points (34.3 percent from 3-point range) and was named First Team All-GPAC. She’s now in a leadership role in the backcourt with Taylor Cockerill having graduated.
· Olson has raved about Rylee Pauli, who is in her fourth season in the program. The Millard South High School alum has progressed steadily throughout her career and earned a starting role last season. Pauli responded by averaging 7.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in 2020-21 and should be in for even better this winter. Through three games, she’s averaging 10.0 points and 9.3 rebounds while playing the third most minutes on the team. Pauli starred in last season’s national tournament win over Marian University (Ind.) in a contest that saw her post 17 points and six rebounds.
· Along with Pauli and Rushton, the starting lineup this season has featured guards Bailey Conrad and Mackenzie Toomey and forward Abby Heemstra. Four of the five starters are in either their first or second seasons within the program (with Pauli being the exception). Heemstra has immediately earned a starting spot following a successful high school career at Rock Valley Community High School. Heemstra’s play was a big factor in the win over Dakota State. She notched 19 points and eight rebounds. Conrad quickly returned to the lineup after the injury she suffered in the national quarterfinals last season. She’s racked up 25 assists already this season.
· Morningside will begin conference play as the favorite in the GPAC, but the race just might be wide open. The Mustangs have dropped two games out of league play already. The consistency of Concordia’s program has been rather impressive. Over the past 10 years, the Bulldogs have not placed any lower than fourth in conference regular season standings. During that time period, Concordia has claimed six GPAC regular season championships, including four in row from the 2016-17 through 2019-20 seasons.
Briar Cliff made a large leap forward from 2019-20 to 2020-21, improving its overall records from 11-19 to 17-10. The Chargers tied for fourth place in the GPAC last season under first-year head coach Brita Hand. Briar Cliff boasts one of the GPAC’s best players in Konnor Sudmann, who is averaging 13.8 points through this season’s first four games. So far, the Chargers have beaten Dickinson State University (N.D.) and No. 20 Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.) and were defeated by No. 13 Dakota State and Saint Xavier University (Ill.). Briar Cliff was picked fifth in the GPAC preseason poll.
GPAC play will continue as the Bulldogs host Midland on Nov. 17 and then travel to play at Dordt on Nov. 20.