Pairings set for Concordia pod of NAIA women's basketball tournament

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 7, 2024 in Women's Basketball

2024 WBB National Tournament Press Guide

Tournament Bracket | 2024 National Qualifiers

SEWARD, Neb. – The matchups are set and the Concordia University Women’s Basketball program now knows who will join it in Seward, Neb., for first and second round action at the 2024 NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship tournament. As announced on Thursday (March 7), the Bulldogs garnered the No. 3 seed in the Naismith Bracket and will take on 14th-seeded Benedictine College (Kan.) in a first round game on Friday, March 15. The two other squads destined for Seward are sixth-seeded Columbia College (Mo.) and 11th-seeded Wayland Baptist University (Texas).

Said Olson of the opportunity to host national tournament games, “I’m pumped. To get to host is a huge deal. I’m so thankful for our administration and the support they’re giving us to be able to do this. It’s a huge advantage. We’ve felt it the last two years being on the road at Thomas More and Campbellsville. To be able to host is going to be a lot of fun and a great way to showcase who Concordia is. I think we’ve got an incredible school and great facilities. It’s first class all the way. I’m really excited. It’s a great thing for our team and our families to get to play at home.”

Concordia Pod
--Site: Friedrich Arena (Seward, Neb.)

Friday, March 15 (first round)
6 p.m. CT – (3) Concordia vs. (14) Benedictine
8 p.m. CT – (6) Columbia vs. (11) Wayland Baptist

Saturday, March 16 (second round)
4 p.m. CT – First round winners

The tournament résumé for the Bulldogs features a win over the NAIA’s current top-ranked team, Marian University (Ind.), which will enter the national tournament at 30-1 overall. In the official NAIA RPI released on Wednesday, Concordia landed at No. 13 while boasting a strength of schedule ranked 33rd toughest in the nation. In addition, the Bulldogs are ranked as the No. 2 team in the NAIA’s North-Central region (behind only GPAC champion Dordt). In the era of one division, Concordia has garnered its highest ever national seed. The Bulldogs were ranked 16th overall heading into the 2021 national tournament (led by then senior Taylor Cockerill) and were then given seedings of No. 9 in 2022 and No. 8 in 2023.

The matchup with Benedictine next weekend will provide Concordia an opportunity to avenge the first-round national tournament defeat it was dealt by the Ravens in 2022. Benedictine (20-11) qualified for this year’s tournament via an at-large berth out of the Heart of America Athletic Conference. Meanwhile, Columbia (27-4) earned a national tournament bid after winning American Midwest Conference regular season and tournament titles and Wayland Baptist (22-8) was selected for an at-large berth out of the Sooner Athletic Conference.

Season Summary

With a veteran crew steering the ship this season, Head Coach Drew Olson believed that the 2023-24 season could be a special one. Concordia has earned its lofty seeding while going 25-6 overall and finishing as the runner up in the GPAC regular season and tournament. The large senior class runs nine deep and includes the likes of All-GPAC award winners Taysha Rushton (first team), Sadie Powell (first team), Kendal Brigham (honorable mention) and Mackenzie Toomey (honorable mention).

The Bulldogs began this season at 6-0 with the aforementioned 75-62 signature win over Marian, which was ranked No. 5 when it made its way to Seward for the Cattle Classic. Following early December losses to Jamestown and then ninth-ranked Briar Cliff, Concordia rattled off 12 wins in a row and captured another CIT championship (in Mequon, Wis.). Brigham earned CIT MVP accolades. That stretch also included two wins in the Phoenix area as part of a pre-Christmas trip. Then on Jan. 20, the Bulldogs welcomed back members of the 2018-19 national championship team for a five-year anniversary celebration.

Along the way, Concordia established itself as the No. 2 team in the GPAC and played three down-to-the-wire games with conference champion Dordt. The Bulldogs dropped those matchups with the Defenders by scores of 84-79, 81-78 and 79-71. The latter contest came in the GPAC championship clash earlier this week. Concordia built a 13-point lead behind first-quarter fireworks from Abby Krieser and felt like it had Dordt on the ropes. The Defenders turned the tide in the fourth quarter and earned a sweep of GPAC regular season and postseason championships.

As part of the 25-win campaign, the Bulldogs have been ranked as high as No. 6 in the NAIA coaches’ poll. Their high ranking played a role in being rewarded as one of 16 host sites for the first/second rounds of the national tournament. In the one-division format, Concordia was previously sent to Park City, Kan. (2021), Bowling Green, Ky. (2022) and Crestview Hills, Ky. (2023). The 16 teams that emerge from the first/second round sites will advance to play at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. More information about the tournament can be found HERE.

National Tournament Facts

·        In its first 22 appearances at the national championships, Concordia has posted a record of 38-20 with seven journeys to at least the national semifinals (three national championship game appearances). The Bulldogs are 15-7 in first-round games. All of the program’s national tournament berths have come since 1992 – the same year the NAIA split into two divisions for basketball. The 2019-20 season marked the final one featuring two divisions. The 2019-20 squad had garnered the No. 1 overall seed in a tournament that was shut down in the middle of the first round due to COVID-19.

·        Nine of the 15 players on Concordia’s national tournament roster have prior in-game national tournament experience. That list includes Kendal Brigham, Abby Heemstra, Abby Krieser, Sadie Powell, Taysha Rushton, Reece Snodgrass, Hanna Spearman, Mackenzie Toomey and Kristin Vieselmeyer. Rushton played an instrumental role in the 2021 run to the national quarterfinals and has appeared in six games at the national tournament in her career. She’s averaged 16.2 points (97 total points) in those contests with a high of 27 in the 73-67 win over fourth-ranked Marian University (Ind.) in ‘21. Rushton also poured in 26 points in last season’s 77-50 win over Columbia College (Mo.) in the first round of the tournament. The seniors have gone a combined 3-3 at the national tournament from 2021 through 2023.

·        Head Coach Drew Olson has been at the controls for each of Concordia’s past 16 national tournament appearances (including 2024). His record at the national tournament now stands at 27-13 with five trips to the final four, including three national championship game appearances (2015, 2018, 2019). The program raised its first-ever national championship banner in March 2019 when it defeated No. 2 Southeastern University (Fla.), 67-59. Olson has won more national tournament games than any coach in school history (men’s or women’s programs). The national championship team of 2018-19 returned to campus for the 2023-24 team’s Jan. 20 win over Briar Cliff. The program celebrated the fifth-year anniversary of winning the national title.

·        During the 2023-24 season to date, the Bulldogs have played 15 games against teams that are included in the national tournament bracket. Concordia has defeated fellow national qualifiers in Arizona Christian, Briar Cliff (twice), Dakota Wesleyan, Embry-Riddle (Ariz.), Jamestown, Marian and Northwestern (twice). The Knights of Marian are one of the four No. 1 seeds in the field.

·        Olson became the program’s fifth coach to lead Concordia to the national tournament when he made his first appearance in 2008. Past coaches to take the Bulldogs to nationals were Todd Voss (three), Mark Lemke (two), Micah Parker (one) and Carl Everts (one). Voss guided two squads that reached the national semifinals.

·        Earlier this season, Olson surpassed his former college coach, Grant Schmidt, for the most head coaching victories in the history of Concordia Athletics. Schmidt went 445-276 while leading the Bulldog Men’s Basketball program from 1989 through 2012. Olson earned win No. 446 on Nov. 15, 2023, as Concordia routed Morningside, 86-62. That result made Olson the winningest coach in the history of Concordia Athletics, regardless of sport. Schmidt also served as Director of Athletics and hired Olson as women’s basketball coach prior to the start of the 2006-07 season.