GPAC powers brace for conference title collision
SEWARD, Neb. – Let’s try this again. For the third time this season, the third-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team will test its mettle against top-ranked Morningside. The two GPAC powers are set to collide on Tuesday in the championship game of the conference tournament. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. from the Rosen Verdoorn Sports Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
Ninth-year head coach Drew Olson’s squad, the No. 2 seed in the bracket, reached the title game by fending off seventh-seeded Mount Marty, 71-66, in the quarterfinals and third-seeded Hastings, 67-60, in the semifinals. Now the Bulldogs hope the third time is the charm against undefeated Morningside (32-0).
“It’s going to be another great battle,” Olson said after Saturday’s semifinal win. “They got us both times. I felt like the last time we played them we weren’t as prepared. There was such a time difference between the first time we played them in November and the last time we played them. We just started off so slow and turned the ball over, making careless plays. I don’t think we were used to their style. I’m hopeful we won’t do it again since we just played them so recently.”
The matchup referenced by Olson occurred Feb. 21 in Sioux City in what was billed as the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Game of the Week. The Mustangs edged Concordia, 77-76, in a heart stopper. Bulldog senior Bailey Morris got one last crack before the buzzer, but her shot missed the mark and Morningside remained unbeaten.
Since then, head coach Jamie Sale’s bunch fought off eighth-seeded Dakota Wesleyan, 83-72, in the GPAC quarterfinals prior to a 77-62 win over fourth-seeded Briar Cliff in Saturday’s other semifinal contest. Morningside has now won a program record 39-straight home games – a streak that dates back to January 2013. Concordia is hoping for a repeat of the Dec. 1, 2012, meeting at Morningside where the Bulldogs captured an 80-76 win.
A deep and balanced team, the Mustangs have seven different players averaging more than 6.5 points per game. Leading scorer Taylor Bahensky (12.7 ppg) topped the squad with 17 points in the semifinal win over Briar Cliff. Bahensky also scored 17 in the most recent game with Concordia and is averaging 15.6 points over the last five contests. Bahensky is one of several outside threats that compliment 6-foot senior Ashlynn Muhl, who leads the GPAC with 14 double-doubles.
On the other side, Concordia enters the GPAC title game coming off what Olson called an “emotional win” over Hastings. Senior Kelsey Hizer shined, recording a team high 15 points while containing Bronco star Jamie Van Kirk on the opposite end. Fellow senior Tracy Peitz has been a rock in the first two games of the GPAC tournament, averaging 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds while going 10-for-15 from the field. Morris notched her second career double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the quarterfinals.
Concordia is aiming for its fourth GPAC tournament title. Since the formation of the GPAC in 2000, the Bulldogs own an all-time conference tournament record of 19-11 with titles coming in 2004, 2005 and 2012. Three members of the current senior class saw action in Concordia’s 73-66 GPAC tournament title victory over Morningside in 2012.
Both the Mustangs and Bulldogs have already clinched bids to the national tournament (March 11-17). Concordia will be making its 14th all-time trip to the national stage. Half of those appearances have come under the direction of Olson, whose career coaching record stands at 221-77.
The victory over Hastings marked the 30th of the season for Concordia. Only three other teams in program history have reached that lofty win total: 2002-03 (36-2), 2011-12 (34-3) and 2004-05 (31-5).