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Playmaking Texan grateful for taking chance on Concordia

By Jacob Knabel on Oct. 20, 2023 in Women's Basketball

Upon first spotting the 5-foot-5 blonde-haired Texan with superior quickness and handles, assistant coach Tae’lor Purdy-Korrell sensed that excitement that fellow coaches would understand. Coach Tae’lor had discovered a gem at a summer club tournament in Denver. If Coach Tae’lor was being honest, she wasn’t quite sure that Concordia could land the services of Taysha Rushton, then a high school junior-to-be and standout for the West Texas Breeze.

Head Coach Drew Olson’s program has maintained powerhouse status while mining local Nebraska talent, but you don’t pass up on a Taysha Rushton, no matter her home state. Olson and Purdy-Korrell went hard after Rushton when they found reciprocal interest.

“Tae’lor first saw her in Denver and she said, ‘You have to come see this kid,’” Olson said. “Taysha definitely stood out. She wanted to see if there was interest from DI. I believe she had a couple of D2’s that were looking at her. We were able to convince her to come to a summer camp. Initially, she liked Concordia but I’m not sure she was ready to come to Nebraska or play NAIA. We kept hanging around and stuck with her. She was willing to come for our style of play and for how we valued her.”

The native of Midland, Texas, and graduate of Monterey High School (in Lubbock, Texas) brought her southern accent and big-time game to Seward beginning with the 2020-21 academic year. Since then, Rushton has been everything Olson and his staff could have hoped for, both on the court and for the example she’s set with her commitment to high achievement. Rushton can flat out score. She’s used her quicks and 3-point stroke (217 career treys) to pile up 1,408 points over three seasons. Though overlooked to some extent, her defensive tenacity is also no joke.

Rushton’s abilities on the court have perfectly fit the type of up-tempo, full-court pressure style that Olson has translated into incredible success. By year, Rushton has averaged 14.4, 17.7 and 14.0 points per game, respectively. As just a freshman, Rushton poured in 27 points in an upset of fourth-ranked Marian University (Ind.) in the round of 16 at the national tournament. “That will probably always be one of my favorite memories,” Taysha says. This past year, Rushton found a comfort zone that saw her increase her shooting percentages (41.1 percent from 3-point range) while understanding when to take over and how to maximize the abilities of her teammates.

Off the court, Rushton has experienced stressors and moments of doubt that she eventually conquered. As Rushton explained of her college experience, “It’s probably the best decision I’ve made in my life. I went through some rough patches freshman and sophomore year thinking about leaving because I wanted to go to cosmetology school. I love basketball too much and I decided to stay. It’s honestly so crazy looking back. This is my senior year. No way I’ve already been here four years. I’ve made the best friends on my team. I have great relationships with the coaches. I love Concordia and I’m so glad I chose to come here.”

Cosmetology school can wait for Rushton, who says that her dream job is either a hairdresser or stay-at-home mom. She can look forward to such a future, but Rushton realizes she can’t take the present for granted. She’ll never have quite this life again. This current life means rooming with five other teammates and living and breathing basketball – when she’s not focused on her Strategic Communications coursework, of course. As Rushton puts it, “You’d think it would be super crazy living with six girls, but it’s super fun.”

Rushton arrived at Concordia as part of the same freshman class that included Kendal Brigham, Sadie Powell, Hanna Spearman and Mackenzie Toomey, among others. Says Rushton of her fellow classmates, “They’re my best friends. It’s super fun to play and battle and grind and get better every day when you’re playing with your friends. We love each other and we’re going to work hard for each other. It’s always a good time, always fun. We’re working hard in practice competing and afterwards we’re laughing and cracking jokes. It’s just always a fun time.”

Born in Olympia, Wash., Taysha is the youngest of eight siblings. It was Taysha’s brother Landon who had the biggest impact upon her, at least in terms of her desire to be great at basketball. Even as the family relocated to Texas, Taysha’s father and brothers continued to root for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the MLB’s Seattle Mariners. Taysha took up a liking for Texas Tech men’s basketball.

Landon went back to the family’s roots when he attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia and played basketball for the Geoducks. Taysha wanted to be a hooper too. “I always looked up to him,” Taysha said. “I always wanted to be him when I was growing up. He played basketball and played four years in college. He was one of my biggest inspirations. He was who I looked up to the most.”

The independent Taysha took her own path and carved out her own journey in a state she hadn’t given much thought to prior to her interactions with the Concordia coaching staff. Why Nebraska? “Definitely not the cold weather,” Taysha joked. As she tells the story, Taysha says she actually did want to get far away from Texas to experience something different. The more she found out about Concordia, the more she liked. The women’s basketball program was a big winner and the team’s style of play (which accentuates guard play) appealed greatly to her in the recruiting process. A visit to campus her junior year of high school helped seal it.

On April 24, 2020, Rushton made it official when she tweeted, “Excited to be a Bulldog!!” along with photos of her and her parents wearing Concordia Nebraska t-shirts. The time since then has gone too fast in Taysha’s eyes. She may not love the winter weather around these parts, but she’s given in and even has worn Husker red alongside her teammates (when the situation calls for it). She thinks it’s about time her friends pay a visit to The Lone Star State.

Says Taysha, “I’ve been telling them the past three years that we need to make a trip to Texas – just a girls trip. We did go play in Texas, which was fun, but maybe as a senior class, after this season, we’ll take a trip to Texas.”

As part of the trip, perhaps they could check in on Texas inhabitant Taylor (Cockerill) Castaneda, a former Bulldog star who finished her Concordia career during Rushton’s freshman season. TC and Taysha teamed up as a dynamic backcourt duo that 2020-21 season. TC showed Taysha what it meant to be a leader within the Concordia Women’s Basketball program. Said Taysha, “I saw how hard she worked every day, and she accomplished a lot of the goals that I want to accomplish. I wanted to live up to that work ethic.”

Taysha has surely made TC proud. The same could be said for her head coach. One way Taysha has improved at her craft is by having Coach Olson defend her one-on-one outside of practice time. Says Taysha, “I don’t think he’d like me saying this, but I definitely beat him the majority of the time.”

Game on! Olson appreciates such competitive spirit. Said Olson, “She’s an incredible player. Her work ethic is probably the best we’ve seen in a long time. She puts herself in a position to have that kind of success. She shoots it at an efficient clip, and she can distribute the ball too. She’s trusting in her teammates and allowing them to do more.”

In the present, Rushton is focused on going all out in 2023-24. What happens after that is too far into the future for her to worry about right now. She’s currently an academic senior, but Rushton could also play in 2024-25 should she choose to use her ‘COVID year’ of eligibility. That decision has not yet been made. Upon the conclusion of her college career, Taysha could opt for cosmetology school – or she could attempt to keep playing basketball.

“I live day by day,” Rushton said. “I’ve thought about playing overseas. That could be a goal of mine, but we’ll see what comes after.”

The ‘day by day’ in October of 2023 means preparing in earnest for the season ahead. Some reflection is appropriate prior to what might be (or might not be) Rushton’s final season as a Bulldog.

As Olson said, “I know she struggled sometimes her first year or two. I’m glad she saw the value in Concordia and how much we care about her. I know she loves her teammates.”