SEWARD, Neb. – For the first time since 1991, the NAIA will hold just one women’s basketball national tournament (previously two separate divisions). The Concordia University Women’s Basketball team is one of 48 teams left standing in a bracket that begins with the opening round. Sixteen teams will emerge from the opening round and advance to play at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, a familiar destination for the Bulldogs. Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad earned a bye to begin the opening round and will play either No. 2 seed Loyola University New Orleans or No. 3 seed Langston University (Okla.) at 1 p.m. CT on Saturday.
NAIA Opening Round | Park City Bracket B
Concordia (20-8) vs. Loyola/Langston
Saturday, March 13 | 1 p.m.
Hartman Arena | Park City, Kansas
Webcast: KCAC Stretch Portal ($9.99/game)
Live Stats: Dakstats
Radio: 104.9 KTMX-FM Max Country
Commentators: Parker Cyza / Devin Smith
--Tickets are $15/session (2 and under are free)
*2020-21 NAIA national rank in parentheses
-NOTE: 204 of 235 NAIA women’s basketball programs have played at least one game this season.
Scoring Offense: 78.6 (22nd)
Scoring Defense: 66.0 (92nd)
FG% Offense: .401 (T-86th)
FG% Defense: .380 (T-69th)
3-pt FG% Offense: .331 (T-47th)
3-pt FG% Defense: .298 (T-80th)
Free Throw%: .730 (T-45th)
Rebound Margin: -0.43 (108th)
Turnover Margin: +6.32 (17th)
Scoring Offense: 76.1 (33rd)
Scoring Defense: 57.2 (19th)
FG% Offense: .436 (T-22nd)
FG% Defense: .354 (T-23rd)
3-pt FG% Offense: .304 (T-91st)
3-pt FG% Defense: .271 (T-27th)
Free Throw%: .708 (T-78th)
Rebound Margin: +13.52 (5th)
Turnover Margin: +1.33 (70th)
Scoring Offense: 79.0 (21st)
Scoring Defense: 75.1 (173rd)
FG% Offense: .415 (T-54th)
FG% Defense: .387 (T-81st)
3-pt FG% Offense: .331 (T-47th)
3-pt FG% Defense: .305 (T-104th)
Free Throw%: .650 (T-150th)
Rebound Margin: +2.4 (67th)
Turnover Margin: -0.13 (106th)
Hartman Arena Info
Hartman Arena in Park City, Kan., is the host site of Concordia’s opening round pod. The arena website can be viewed here: https://www.hartmanarena.com/. The venue will be limiting capacity to 20 percent (roughly 1,000 fans). Fans in attendance this weekend will be required to wear masks. The ticket cost is $15 per session.
The Bulldogs were very narrowly beaten in the GPAC tournament championship game, 67-65, by Morningside on March 2. After trailing 36-15 in the second quarter, Concordia closed the first half on a 16-2 run spurred by a flurry of 3-point field goals by freshman Taysha Rushton, who led all players with 24 points. The Bulldogs came all the way back to take the lead during a back-and-forth fourth quarter at the Rosen-Verdoorn Sports Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Taylor Cockerill poured in 19 of her 21 points after halftime in showcasing some big-time shot making of her own. Sophia Peppers scored the game-winning basket with less than a second remaining to allow the Mustangs to sweep GPAC regular season and postseason titles. The Bulldogs made their fifth-straight appearance in the conference tournament final.
National tournament history
Concordia has won six-straight national tournament games, a run that includes the entire 2019 NAIA Division II tournament and the first round of the 2020 tournament (before it was cut short by COVID-19). In its first 19 appearances at the national championships, Concordia has posted a record of 35-17 with seven journeys to at least the national semifinals (three national championship game appearances). The Bulldogs are 13-6 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. Head Coach Drew Olson has been at the controls for each of Concordia’s past 13 national tournament appearances (including 2021). His record at the national tournament stands at 24-10 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. Olson has won more national tournament games than any coach in school history (men’s or women’s programs).
Cockerill/Rushton named to GPAC first team
The GPAC released all-conference teams on March 3 when Taylor Cockerill and Taysha Rushton were announced as first team selections (Mackenzie Koepke and Rylee Pauli were recognized with honorable mention accolades). Cockerill is now a two-time first team all-conference honoree. The Waverly High School product also picked up first team accolades in 2018-19 for the national championship team. While returning from an injury that sidelined her in 2019-20, Cockerill has started all 28 games and leads the team in points (14.5), rebounds (6.2) and assists (3.04) per game. She is shooting 41.7 percent from the floor, 38.0 percent from 3-point range and 78.7 percent from the foul line. She will enter the national tournament having piled up career totals of 1,324 points (16th most in program history), 471 rebounds, 244 assists, 164 steals and 148 3-point field goals. Rushton emerged as a strong candidate for the GPAC Freshman of the Year award (which wound up going to Dakota Wesleyan’s Haidyn Pitsch). The native of Lubbock, Texas, immediately stepped into a starting role and has averaged 14.3 points, 2.6 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Rushton is shooting 36.6 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from 3-point range and 81.9 percent from the free throw line. Rushton ranks fourth among all GPAC players with 66 made 3-point field goals (2.36 per game). Her scoring average is the second highest for a freshman during Drew Olson’s tenure.
Concordia continued to rise in the national rankings when it was seeded 16th in the NAIA heading into the national tournament. The Bulldogs opened up at No. 11 in the NAIA preseason poll. In the first poll of the regular season (Dec. 16), Concordia did not receive a single vote in the coaches’ poll. Since then, Drew Olson’s squad his risen steadily after re-entering the top 25 on Jan. 27. The absence from the mid-December rankings ended the program’s stretch of being ranked for 97-straight polls. As it stands, the Bulldogs have appeared in the top 25 in 101 of the last 103 NAIA coaches’ polls.
2020-21 NAIA Poll Rankings
Oct. 14 – 11th
Dec. 16 – NR
Jan. 13 – RV
Jan. 27 – 25th
Feb. 10 – 22nd
Feb. 24 – 17th
March 4 – 16th (rated by selection committee)
Rushton on fire
No player scored more points during the GPAC tournament than rising star Taysha Rushton, who tallied 19 or more points in all three contests. Had the voting taken place following the conference tournament, it seems likely that Rushton would have been named the GPAC Freshman of the Year. Over the course of the GPAC postseason, Rushton averaged 21.3 points while going 12-for-24 (.500) from beyond the arc. In addition, she committed only three turnovers in a combined 107 minutes of action in the conference tournament. The native of Lubbock, Texas, has reached the 20-point mark seven times this season.
Rushton, GPAC Tournament
Quarterfinals vs. DWU: 19 points | 5-11 FGs | 1-5 3-pt FGs
Semifinals vs. NWC: 21 points | 7-16 FGs | 5-9 3-pt FGs
Championship vs. MC: 24 points | 9-15 FGs | 6-10 3-pt FGs
Loyola is ranked 19th in the NAIA by the Women’s Basketball National Selection Committee. The Wolfpack earned an automatic bid to the national tournament by winning the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) tournament. This marks the 13th all-time national tournament appearance for Loyola, which is located in New Orleans, La. SSAC Coach of the Year Kellie Kennedy guides a squad that enters the national tournament on a 15-game winning streak. The Wolfpack landed three players on the all-conference first team: Kennedy Hansberry, Taylor Thomas and Presley Wascom. Loyola rates as a strong defensive team having held opponents to 35.4 percent shooting. The team’s lone loss of the season came at the hands of the University of Mobile (Ala.) back on Jan. 19.
Langston is ranked 39th in the NAIA by the Women’s Basketball National Selection Committee. The Lady Lions locked up a spot in the national tournament via a runner-up finish in the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament. Langston will be headed to nationals for the 14th time in program history and for the first time since 2016. Head Coach Elaine Powell’s squad played an abbreviated schedule while going 8-7 this season. Senior forward Asheika Alexander ranks fifth in the nation in scoring at 22.2 points per game. She also averages 6.7 rebounds and shoots 38.5 percent from 3-point range. The Lady Lions roster includes players from 10 different states.
Sioux City remains final site
Despite the changes to the national tournament format, the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, remains the hopeful destination for the Bulldogs this March. A win on Saturday would allow Concordia to advance to Sioux City as one of 16 remaining teams in the field. The opening round winners are re-seeded into a 16-team bracket.
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)
G – Kennedy Hansberry, Jr. (10.0)
G – Taylor Thomas, So. (11.7)
G – Presley Wascom, Sr. (12.2)
F – Sandra Cannady, So. (10.3)
F – Chelsea Gray, Sr. (7.6)
G – Grace Williams, Jr. (8.8)
F – Asheika Alexander, Sr. (22.2)
F – Talia Edwards, Sr. (11.3)
F – Jailynn Lawson, Sr. (13.4)
F – Alexia Levenston, Sr. (3.8)