SEWARD, Neb. – It will be back to the friendly confines of Friedrich Arena for the 22nd-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team. The Bulldogs are preparing to host Doane on New Year's Day in what will be their first action since playing two highly rated foes at the Hoop N Surf Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii (Dec. 18-19). Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad stands at 8-6 overall (5-3 GPAC) having played one of the more challenging schedules of any team in the NAIA.
By the numbers
· At the Hoop N Surf Classic, Concordia fell by scores of 64-57 to No. 1 Campbellsville University (Ky.) and 84-67 to No. 3 Thomas More University (Ky.). In the matchup with the NAIA’s top-ranked team, the Bulldogs got as close as four points (54-50) in the fourth quarter while being led off the bench by Kayla Luebbe (15 points and 10 rebounds) and Sadie Powell (11 points and seven rebounds). Concordia just didn’t have enough offensive firepower in a game it shot 3-for-23 from beyond the arc. The Tigers got a game high 14 points from Kaitlyn Wilks and limited the Bulldogs to 35.1 percent shooting from the floor.
· In game two in Hawaii, the Bulldogs came out hot in both the first and third quarters and owned a lead as large as five points (48-43) in the second half versus Thomas More, the 2020-21 NAIA national runner up. Rylee Pauli starred for Concordia in supplying 16 points and six rebounds. Taysha Rushton also added 13 points. On the downside, the Bulldogs again shot south of 40 percent (.362) from the floor. While putting six players in double figures, the Saints outscored Concordia, 19-11, in the fourth quarter and pulled away. This marked the first trip to Hawaii for the program since the 2016-17 season.
· The schedule in the first half of the regular season has made the Bulldogs a battled tested squad. They have already taken on eight teams ranked inside the current NAIA top 25: No. 1 Campbellsville, No. 3 Thomas More, No. 6 Wayland Baptist University (Texas), No. 9 Sterling College (Kan.), No. 10 Morningside, No. 13 Northwestern, No. 17 Dakota State University (S.D.) and No. 23 Briar Cliff. According to Massey Ratings, Concordia has played the NAIA’s ninth most challenging schedule to date. The Bulldogs remain the lone team to defeat Wayland Baptist (13-1) this season.
· Even for Concordia, this has been a uniquely balanced team. Olson has put to use two distinctive waves of groupings throughout much of the first half of the season. The team’s leading scorer is Rushton at 15.6 points per game. She has been joined in the starting lineup by Pauli (8.6), Lauren Baker (7.7), Abby Heemstra (7.2) and Bailey Conrad (5.6). The second grouping has often included Powell (7.2), Luebbe (6.8), Taylor Farrell (6.4), Mackenzie Toomey (5.5) and Kendal Brigham (5.1). The team’s depth has been a strength despite injuries to veterans Abby Aplaca and Mackenzie Koepke.
· Through 14 games, the Bulldogs are averaging 76.0 points while posting shooting percentages of 41.3 from the floor, 33.2 from 3-point range and 66.8 from the foul line. On the other end, Concordia foes are averaging 71.5 points with shooting percentages of 40.9 from the field, 30.7 from beyond the arc and 74.9 from the charity stripe. Offensively, the Bulldogs sport national rankings of 40th in scoring average and 81st in field goal percentage. Concordia has gone 6-1 at home, 2-3 in true road games and 0-2 in neutral site contests.
After going 5-20 last season (and 2-25 in 2019-20), Doane stands at 7-7 with a quality win over College of Saint Mary. Now in his third season, Head Coach Ryan Baumgartner has helped bring stability back to the program. Freshman Mak Hatcliff of Beatrice, Neb., has been a major difference maker for the Tigers. She is the current GPAC scoring leader at 20.0 points per game. Hatcliff has helped the team ramp up its scoring average from 63.0 in 2020-21 to 71.9 so far this season. Doane is 1-3 in true road games and will attempt to snap a 10-game series losing streak to Concordia when the two sides meet on Saturday. Before heading to Seward, the Tigers will be at Waldorf University (Iowa) on Wednesday.
GPAC play heats back up next week as the Bulldogs are slated to play at Mount Marty on Jan. 5 before returning home to host Dakota Wesleyan on Jan. 8.