With nationals bid secured, Concordia aims for GPAC tourney title

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 28, 2021 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – For the fifth year in a row, the Concordia University Women’s Basketball program has advanced to the GPAC tournament championship game. The major difference this time is that the Bulldogs will have to conquer enemy territory in order to hoist the banner. No. 17 Concordia is getting set to play at seventh-ranked Morningside in the title game at 7 p.m. CT on Tuesday. Fans must be on a pre-approved visitors list in order to be admitted into the game.

GPAC Championship Game

(17) Concordia (20-7) at (7) Morningside (25-2)
Tuesday, March 2 | 7 p.m.
Rosen-Verdoorn Sports Center | Sioux City, Iowa
Webcast: Morningside Video Stream
Live Stats: http://www.qkstats.net/live/xlive.htm
Radio: 104.9 KTMX-FM Max Country
Commentator: Parker Cyza
Tickets: Fans must be on pre-approved admission list
--Admission: $10 for adults/senior citizens, $3 for K-12


*2020-21 NAIA national rank in parentheses
-NOTE: 203 of 235 NAIA women’s basketball programs have played at least one game this season.

Scoring Offense: 79.1 (22nd)
Scoring Defense: 66.0 (92nd)
FG% Offense: .399 (T-89th)
FG% Defense: .378 (T-64th)
3-pt FG% Offense: .329 (48th)
3-pt FG% Defense: .296 (78th)
Free Throw%: .728 (T-50th)
Rebound Margin: -0.22 (102nd)
Turnover Margin: +6.63 (15th)

Scoring Offense: 80.0 (19th)
Scoring Defense: 61.5 (45th)
FG% Offense: .442 (18th)
FG% Defense: .396 (T-104th)
3-pt FG% Offense: .385 (5th)
3-pt FG% Defense: .300 (T-88th)
Free Throw%: .749 (24th)
Rebound Margin: +1.48 (80th)
Turnover Margin: +7.70 (8th)

Protocols for fans
Morningside continues to limit fan attendance to friends and family of the student-athletes and coaches involved in events it hosts. According to its policy, visiting fans must be on a pre-submitted attendance list. Tickets are not sold online or at the entrance.
--NOTE: All GPAC events require fans to wear face coverings. To review specific COVID-19 protocols for the GPAC and its member institutions, visit: http://www.gpacsports.com/gpac-covid19-fan-protocols.

Recent action
Concordia put together what was likely its best half of basketball all season while building a 47-25 lead on Northwestern in the GPAC semifinals. The Bulldogs outscored the Red Raiders 24-8 in the second quarter that set the tone for the day. Concordia won by a final of 83-70 while being led in scoring by Taysha Rushton (21), Taylor Cockerill (18), Rylee Pauli (11) and Bailey Conrad (10). Backcourt play was particularly one-sided in favor of the Bulldogs, who held a +5 advantage in the turnover department. Concordia limited Northwestern to 37.1 percent shooting for the game. The Bulldogs won all three meetings this season with the Red Raiders.

Hunting another GPAC tournament title
The program is seeking its eighth all-time GPAC tournament title and seventh under Drew Olson’s direction. Concordia lost its first-ever GPAC postseason championship appearance and has proceeded to win the next seven. Olson is 6-0 in GPAC championship games having defeated Dakota Wesleyan (three times), Morningside (twice) and Hastings in those battles. Concordia and Morningside also met in Sioux City for the 2015 GPAC tournament title game with the result being an 80-72 Bulldog win. That marked the only loss of the 2014-15 season for the Mustangs.

GPAC Championship Games, program history
2020 – vs. Hastings | W, 60-49
2019 – vs. Dakota Wesleyan | W, 75-63
2018 – vs. Dakota Wesleyan | W, 90-88
2017 – vs. Dakota Wesleyan | W, 78-77 (OT)
2015 – at Morningside | W, 80-72
2012 – vs. Morningside | W, 73-66
2005 – at Morningside | W, 47-35
2004 – at Morningside | L, 63-76

Backcourt powers way to title game
Olson knew what he had entering the season with Taylor Cockerill, although the star guard was coming off of major knee surgery. However, there were some unknowns in the backcourt with the likes of Grace Barry and Riley Sibbel having moved on. Olson handed the keys over to freshman Taysha Rushton, who is a budding star and someone Olson believes is already one of the top players in the GPAC. The trio of Cockerill, Rushton and Bailey Conrad combined for 49 points and 11 assists against only three turnovers in the GPAC semifinal game. Cockerill and Rushton are both putting up stellar numbers, but the stats won’t tell the full story for Conrad, who has now started 14 games. All three have provided a steadying presence to a team posted single-digit turnover totals in four of the past six outings.

Familiar coaching rivals
Drew Olson of Concordia and Jamie Sale of Morningside are two of the most accomplished women’s basketball coaches in the entire country. Both reached milestones this season with Sale passing 600 wins and Olson eclipsing 400 victories. Sale is in his 20th season leading the Mustangs while Olson is in year 15 at his alma mater. Their long and successful tenures have led to memorable clashes between these programs – particularly in 2015 when the two sides went head-to-head in both the GPAC tournament championship and NAIA Division II national championship games. Sale has the upper hand all-time against Olson with an 18-15 record. That includes the two Morningside wins this season over Concordia.

Hitting the 20-win mark
Several elite programs will not hit the 20-win mark this season due to COVID-19 schedule restrictions. In other words, reaching that plateau is an achievement worth celebrating. Concordia recorded win No. 20 in the GPAC semifinals. Olson has led the Bulldogs to at least 20 victories in 13 of his 15 seasons at the helm of the program (one season with 19 wins). The previous four seasons set a new standard for winning as Concordia posted win totals of 34, 36, 35 and 32, respectively. The 36 victories are tied for the most in a single season in program history. In addition, the program has clinched a 10th-straight national tournament appearance.

GPAC tournament update
The higher seeds have prevailed in every game so far during the 2021 GPAC tournament. In addition, the closest final margin has been nine points (Morningside over Jamestown in the quarterfinals). That sets up a 1 versus 2 matchup in the GPAC tournament final. No matter the result, both Concordia and Morningside will be ticketed for the opening round of the national tournament.

GPAC Quarterfinals – Feb. 24
No. 1 Morningside def. No. 8 Jamestown, 84-75
No. 4 Briar Cliff def. No. 5 Dordt, 67-54
No. 3 Northwestern def. No. 6 Midland, 79-54
No. 2 Concordia def. No. 7 Dakota Wesleyan, 70-58

GPAC Semifinals – Feb. 27
No. 1 Morningside def. No. 4 Briar Cliff, 72-59
No. 2 Concordia def. No. 3 Northwestern, 83-70

Scouting Morningside
The Mustangs have gotten to 25-2 in large part due to a high-powered offense led by two of the GPAC’s best players in Sierra Mitchell (18.2 ppg) and Sophia Peppers (15.3 ppg). Both Mustangs are sure fire first team all-conference selections. Mitchell (1,970 career points) is closing in on 2,000 points for her career. In the GPAC semifinal win over Briar Cliff, Mitchell posted 20 points and five assists while Peppers notched 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Morningside owns a 19-game win streak that dates back an 80-78 loss at Briar Cliff on Dec. 9. The closest call during the streak was the 66-64 squeaker in Seward on Jan. 16. The Mustangs are a team with aspirations of advancing deep into the national tournament.

Looking ahead
The NAIA has scheduled the women’s basketball selection show for 6 p.m. CT on Thursday, March 4. Concordia has guaranteed itself a spot in the opening round of the national tournament to be held on March 12-13. The NAIA has declared eight different opening round sites. The selection show will unveil pairings and location assignments.

Projected Starters

Concordia (20-7, 17-5)
G – Taylor Cockerill, Jr. (14.3)
G – Bailey Conrad, Fr. (4.6)
G – Taysha Rushton, Fr. (13.9)
F – Mackenzie Koepke, Jr. (7.4)
F – Rylee Pauli, Jr. (6.9)

Morningside (25-2, 21-1)
G – Faith Meyer, Sr. (7.3)
G – Sierra Mitchell, Sr. (18.2)
G – McKenna Sims, So. (7.2)
F – Chloe Lofstrom, Fr. (9.2)
F – Sophia Peppers, Jr. (15.3)