Second half of GPAC slate continues with rematches vs. Morningside/Northwestern

By Jacob Knabel on Jan. 16, 2023 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – The back half of the GPAC slate will continue this week as the Concordia University Women’s Basketball team prepares for rematches with Morningside and No. 15 Northwestern. The Bulldogs are coming off a week that saw them win comfortably over College of Saint Mary, 74-54, before enduring a 79-72 loss at Jamestown, a squad receiving votes in the national poll. That defeat interrupted what had been a six-game GPAC win streak for Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad. Currently, Concordia resides in fifth place in the GPAC standings with an 8-5 league mark (10-7 overall).

This Week

Thursday, Jan. 19 vs. Morningside (12-6, 7-5 GPAC), 6 p.m.
--Live Webcast/Stats | 104.9 Max Country | Location: Friedrich Arena (Seward, Neb.)

Saturday, Jan. 21 at No. 15 Northwestern (14-3, 9-2 GPAC), 2 p.m.
--Live Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Bultman Center (Orange City, Iowa)

By the numbers

·        The strength of the schedule played by the Bulldogs is evident when studying the NAIA coaches’ poll released on Jan. 11. The Bulldogs have taken on five teams currently in the top 25: No. 3 Dordt, No. 15 Northwestern, No. 17 Texas Wesleyan University, No. 19 University of Science & Arts (Okla.) and No. 21 Briar Cliff. They have also played “receiving votes” teams in Dakota State University (S.D.) and Jamestown (twice). In addition, Concordia also has defeated two teams that were ranked at the time the games were played: then No. 21 Dakota Wesleyan and then No. 25 Morningside. According to Massey Ratings, Concordia has played the fifth toughest schedule in the NAIA.

·        Since the Bulldogs began playing at Friedrich Arena (inside the Walz Human Performance Complex) with the start of the 2009-10 season, they own a 178-30 home record. That mark was bolstered by undefeated home records in 2016-17 (17-0), 2017-18 (15-0) and 2019-20 (16-0). The senior class that graduated in 2020, featuring All-American Philly Lammers, went an otherworldly 63-1 at home over four seasons. Under Olson’s direction, Concordia has posted an above .500 home record in every season of the current arena’s existence. The 2022-23 squad ran its home record to 7-2 with last week’s win over College of Saint Mary.

·        The Bulldogs have had their way with the Flames (5-13, 2-10 GPAC) in winning each of the past 21 series meetings, a string that dates prior to College of Saint Mary joining the GPAC. Concordia started a bit slow last week in a contest that was tied, 17-17, late in the first quarter. The Bulldogs then got rolling in the second quarter, took a 41-25 lead to halftime and never looked back. Concordia overcame 6-for-28 (.214) shooting from 3-point range by forcing 21 turnovers and with a balanced scoring attack. Off the bench, Hailey Kleinschmit produced 12 points and nine rebounds. Four other Bulldogs notched at least eight points: Kendal Brigham (10), Sadie Powell (10), Taysha Rushton (nine) and Abby Krieser (eight). Rushton also dished out five assists. The bench accounted for 41 of the team’s 74 points.

·        A hot start came in the form of 4-for-5 shooting from long range to begin the game at Jamestown (13-5, 8-4 GPAC). Concordia built a 14-7 lead before cooling off. A key stretch came late in the first half when an 11-3 Jimmie run made it a 40-31 halftime spread. Jamestown built the advantage to 13 (72-59) with less than two minutes remaining. That deficit was slashed to five with an 8-0 run initiated by Krieser’s three-point play. The Jimmies eventually put the game away by making each of their final seven free throws. Jamestown star Hannah DeMars piled up 25 points and 17 rebounds as the Jimmies owned the boards, 49-30. The Bulldogs hung in there with the help of 20 turnovers forced and double-digit scoring from Rushton (15), Krieser (14) and Megan Belt (12).

·        Krieser came on strong last week in totaling a combined 22 points. Her emergence as a sophomore is one of the reasons why Concordia has unleashed the press this season after using it situationally in 2021-22. The 5-foot-8 guard out of Lincoln North Star High School is averaging 7.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.3 assists per game in her first season as a starter. Her work in the backcourt has helped the Bulldogs force an average of 20.9 turnovers per game, a figure that ranks No. 1 in the GPAC and 30th nationally.

·        The Midland, Texas, native Rushton is leading the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game (10th most among GPAC players). That average is down from 17.7 in 2021-22, but Rushton has seemingly gained confidence in her teammates’ ability to score. In turn, Rushton has been efficient in shooting 40 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from 3-point range. An impact player from the day she arrived on campus, Rushton owns career totals of 1,196 points, 209 rebounds, 206 assists and 128 steals in 77 games. She’s a career 34.2 percent shooter from 3-point range (180-for-526). Both Rushton and Mackenzie Koepke (196-for-627) are on the verge of reaching 200 career 3-point field goals.

The opponents

Morningside has gotten on a nice roll with four straight wins and with victories in eight of its past nine outings. The Mustangs have always been dangerous under Head Coach Jamie Sale, who has led the program to four NAIA Division II national championships. Morningside will be attempting to avenge the 71-64 home loss it suffered to Concordia on Nov. 30. A returning First Team All-GPAC honoree, Sophia Peppers is averaging 12.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The starting five includes four double-figure scorers, including former Illinois State University guard McKenna Sims. Offensively, the Mustangs average 75.0 points per game and shoot 43.3 percent from the field. They allow 69.1 points per game and 39.4 percent shooting.

Northwestern experienced some bumps in the road with three straight losses in December, but it has recovered to go 4-0 during the month of January (entering action Wednesday at No. 21 Briar Cliff). The Red Raiders put to use an experienced backcourt led by Maddie Jones (13.3 ppg) and can lean upon one of the league’s top post players in Molly Schany, who averages 14.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Head Coach Kristin Rotert’s squad has been stout defensively, ranking second in the GPAC in both scoring defense (58.9) and field goal percentage defense (.365). Northwestern will be aiming for a regular season sweep of Concordia. The Red Raiders won in Seward, 72-56, on Dec. 3.

Probable starters

Concordia (10-7, 8-5 GPAC)
G – Abby Krieser (7.9)
G – Taysha Rushton (13.9)
G – Mackenzie Toomey (6.8)
F – Abby Heemstra (3.6)
F – Sadie Powell (10.5)

Head Coach: Drew Olson (433-128, 17th season at CUNE)

Morningside (12-6, 7-5 GPAC)
G – Olivia Larsen (6.1)
G – McKenna Sims (10.1)
G – Alexis Spier (11.3)
F – Chloe Lofstrom (11.1)
F – Sophia Peppers (12.4)

Head Coach: Jamie Sale (578-167, 24th season at Morningside)

Northwestern (14-3, 9-2 GPAC)
G – Hali Anderson (8.4)
G – Emilee Danner (10.1)
G – Maddie Jones (13.3)
G – Taylor VanderVelde (9.3)
F – Molly Schany (14.3)

Head Coach: Kristin Rotert (38-12, 2nd season at Northwestern)

Next week

Next week will be jampacked with home action as the Bulldogs will host Hastings on Jan. 25 before shifting focus to the 70th Concordia Invitational Tournament (Jan. 27-28). On day one of the event, CUNE will take on Concordia University Wisconsin.