Season of many thrills ends in national round of 16

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 21, 2024 in Women's Basketball

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – The discrepancy from the 3-point arc told the story on Thursday (March 21) as the third-seeded Concordia University Women’s Basketball team saw its 2023-24 season come to end in the round of 16 at the NAIA National Championship tournament. No. 2 seed University of Providence (Mont.) rallied back from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to claim a 73-66 victory inside the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. The Argonauts knocked down 14-of-30 shots from long range while advancing to the national quarterfinals.

Head Coach Drew Olson’s NAIA seventh-ranked squad ends the season at 27-7 overall. The 2023-24 Bulldogs made the program’s 23rd all-time appearance on the national stage.

“It was a great basketball game – two really good teams,” Olson said. “We knew that once you get to this level, all the teams are really good. I felt like we competed and got ourselves in position to win the game. When we were up seven coming out of the timeout, I really thought we had the game. We had great momentum and then give up the offensive rebound and wide open three. Then their post hits the transition three and it really swung the momentum the other way. We continued to fight and had a decent chance at the end. We were just on the wrong end of it today.”

It appeared the Bulldogs had taken control early in the fourth quarter when a 12-0 spurt that started in the third quarter gave them a 56-49 lead. The Argos came right back with the three ball as Eliannah Ramirez and Keanna Salave’a drained perimeter shots, spurring a 15-4 surge. The back-breaker down the stretch was delivered by Kolby Pimperton in the form of triple at the 1:12 mark of the fourth quarter. Providence then led 67-63 and never relinquished the advantage. A trey from Taysha Rushton in the final minute kept Concordia hopes alive before an empty ensuing offensive possession dashed them.

While Providence shot well above its season 3-point percentage (.278), the Bulldogs went just 4-for-16 (.250) on 3-point attempts. Many other factors went about the way Concordia would have hoped. It hung in there on the boards (39-35 disadvantage) against a longer, bigger opponent, committed only eight turnovers and made 16-of-18 free throws. In facing a seven-point halftime deficit, the Bulldogs showed the grit to quickly erase it. Unfortunately, it was the Argos who made the clutch plays in crunch time.

A group of four seniors gave all they could on Thursday and throughout their careers. Kendal Brigham notched a game high 18 points (6-for-6 from the foul line) while her fellow classmates each had eight or more points: Rushton (15), Sadie Powell (13) and Mackenzie Toomey (eight). Rushton and Powell also snared nine rebounds apiece in coming up just shy of double-doubles. Concordia shot 41.1 percent (23-for-56) overall.

Providence (25-8) has qualified for the national tournament for the eighth time and will be looking to break through to the semifinal round for the first time in program history. The balanced Argos placed five players in double figures on Thursday: Pimperton (14), Taliah Lee (13), Ashlee Maldonado (12), Maddy Dixon (10) and Salave’a (10). Lee, Maldonado and Pimperton canned three 3-point field goals apiece. Providence shot 40.3 percent (25-for-62) overall. The impressive freshman Salave’a pulled down 15 rebounds and dished out four assists.

For the Bulldogs, there were dreams of making another run to the final four. Considering the close calls with GPAC champion Dordt and the win over current No. 1 Marian University (Ind.), Concordia believed it could play with any team in the nation. Despite the national tournament exit, the seniors can take pride in knowing they have upheld the program’s elite status.

Members of the senior class will have the option to return in 2024-25. Those who played during the 2020-21 season were not charged a season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. None of the seniors have yet announced a decision either way. The senior group of ’24-25 will be led by the likes of Abby Krieser and Abby Heemstra.

Said Olson of the message to his team, “I love them. It’s awesome to be their coach. I’m really sad it ended this way because I really felt like we were deserving of moving on. We have a really special team and this is a fun, fun group to be around. They’re selfless and embody everything that we want. I’m just really, really proud of them and love them.”