Seniors go out winners as national tournament journey destined for Sioux City

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 16, 2024 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – The senior class would not be denied, not at home. For the second time in the careers of Taysha Rushton and her fellow classmates, the Concordia University Women’s Basketball program has secured a spot at the final site of the NAIA National Championship tournament: the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. One day after a heartburn-inducing overtime victory, the third-seeded Bulldogs got it done in the second round with a lot less drama – 80-62 over No. 11 seed Wayland Baptist University (Texas) on Saturday (March 16).

Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad effectively protected the home court this weekend with wins over Benedictine College (Kan.) and Wayland Baptist. As the winner of its own four-team pod, Concordia cut down the Friedrich Arena nets and posed for photos with the trophy following Saturday’s victory.

“That will never get old,” said Olson of the celebration with the team. “That’s a lot of fun. Those are big-time memories that they’ll never forget. That’s pretty special. It was a great team effort – a lot of toughness. We were really good defensively in that second half. I’m really proud of our group because we had lots of people step up. Thinking about the first half, Megan (Belt) hits the three and we had Kristin (Vieselmeyer) hit a three late. Multiple people throughout the game contributed in a multitude of ways. This is a really special team.”

In order to get to the final 16, the Bulldogs knew they would have to contend with star post player Megan Nestor. She finished Saturday with a whopping 18 rebounds, but Concordia’s physicality helped limit her to 1-for-7 shooting from the floor. Defensive tenacity was a constant all weekend for the Bulldogs. They snuffed out the Flying Queens of Plainview, Texas, to the tune of 31.5 percent (23-for-73) shooting from the floor. Wayland Baptist struggled to mount a second half surge while going just 2-for-12 (.167) from 3-point range.

A bit like Friday, Concordia allowed a double-digit lead to be cut to four (36-32) at halftime. The Flying Queens would get no closer in the second half as the Bulldogs put forth a much more efficient offensive outing. As part of a balanced performance, Concordia placed four players into double figures: Kendal Brigham (18), Abby Krieser (16), Rushton (14) and Sadie Powell (11) while Mackenzie Toomey came off the bench to contribute nine points.

The Friedrich Arena crowd appreciated that type of production. It prevented the type of nail-biter the Bulldogs navigated on Friday evening. Concordia finished this contest on a 16-6 run that had the gathered audience planning their trips to Sioux City next week.

Said Rushton, “Any national tournament win is big. With it being at home, it was huge having fans and our students here cheering us on. It was such a fun environment and it was fun to cut the nets down in front of them. I haven’t been there (Sioux City) since freshman year. It’s our goal every year to make it back there. It makes it special having my best friends as teammates with me.”

Against a lengthy team, the Bulldogs did a respectable job (45-38 disadvantage) on the boards and shot 45.2 percent from the floor, 37.9 percent from 3-point range and made 13-of-15 foul shots. Brigham, Krieser and Powell each snagged six rebounds while Brigham dropped six dimes. Defensively, the likes of Vieselmeyer, Abby Heemstra and Raelyn Kelty spent the game battling Nestor down the low. It all added up to another momentous win for the program.

Said Olson, “I’m really happy about it obviously. That was a big goal for us to start the year. We knew with this group we had the talent. It was just about coming together and having the season that we have. We’ve got other goals too, and we’re hoping to make a run (in Sioux City).”

Peyton North emerged as the leading scorer for Wayland Baptist with 15 points. Linda Brice totaled 12 points and Bobbie Fouquet chipped in with 11. The Flying Queens reached the final site as recently as 2022 and have been a perennial national qualifier out of the Sooner Athletic Conference.

The round of 16 matchup for Concordia is set. The Bulldogs will take on second-seeded University of Providence (Mont.) at 3 p.m. CT on Thursday, March 21 as part of the Naismith Quadrant. All games the rest of the way will be played at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.