Two ranked foes make up week's GPAC slate

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 29, 2021 in Women's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – This week may be one to decide whether Concordia University Women’s Basketball will be a contender for the GPAC regular-season title. The Bulldogs will go up against two ranked foes within conference play: No. 12 Morningside on Wednesday and No. 17 Northwestern on Saturday. In last season’s action, Concordia lost all four meetings to the Mustangs and defeated the Red Raiders and all three matchups. Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad is coming off an attention getting road victory over No. 3 Wayland Baptist University (Texas).

This Week

Wednesday, Dec. 1 at (12) Morningside (5-2, 3-0 GPAC), 6 p.m.
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Saturday, Dec. 4 vs. (17) Northwestern (7-0, 3-0 GPAC), 2 p.m.
--Live Webcast/Stats | 104.9 Max Country

By the numbers

·        Now 5-3 overall (2-2 GPAC), the Bulldogs have won back-to-back games for the first time this season. The thrills last week came in different forms as Concordia worked through its offensive struggles (26.3 percent shooting in the first half) against Jamestown and won, 69-67, on a buzzer beater from Taysha Rushton. Four days later, the Bulldogs came out sizzling and raced to a 13-0 lead in the process of upsetting third-ranked Wayland Baptist, 76-66, in Plainview, Texas. Concordia led by as many as 18 points in the second quarter and maintained an advantage of at least six the rest of the way. Prior to the 2-0 week, the Bulldogs had not won or lost consecutive games this season.

·        It was an eventful week for Rushton, who threw in the game winner to beat Jamestown and then helped engineer the upset of Wayland Baptist in her home state of Texas. For the week, Rushton totaled 35 points while making 11-of-31 shots from the floor. Through eight games, Rushton has produced at least 14 points in each outing, posting respective point totals of 32, 19, 17, 16, 17, 14, 20 and 15. The 32 points in the season opener represent a career high. In 39 career collegiate games, Rushton has already piled up 595 points (average of 15.3 per game). In addition, Rushton is tied for the team lead in steals (15) and ranks second in assists (20) this season.

·        One trend continued and another ended in the Nov. 27 defeat of Wayland Baptist. The result snapped a 50-game home winning streak for the Queens, who compete as a member of the NAIA’s Sooner Athletic Conference. Meanwhile, Concordia has beaten at least one NAIA top-five ranked opponent in each of the past 11 seasons while being led by Olson. The Bulldogs will have more opportunities to build on a résumé that includes a win over Dakota State University (S.D.), currently ranked 19th. Coming up Dec. 18-19, Concordia will go up against No. 2 Campbellsville University (Ky.) and No. 4 Thomas More University (Ky.) as part of a challenging nonconference slate.

·        Over the past couple of seasons, Concordia has relied more on mixtures of man-to-man and zone defense in the half court, as opposed to the signature press that some of the most successful teams in program history used to near perfection. Naturally, the Bulldogs are forcing fewer turnovers (17.5 per game) compared to previous years. However, turnover margin continues to be part of the winning formula. Concordia owns a plus-5.0 turnover margin per game and has gotten 15 steals apiece from Rylee Pauli and Rushton. As a contrast, the 2019-20 squad (ranked No. 1 to end the season) forced 1,068 turnovers in 34 games.

·        From game-to-game, it could be any of a large number of Bulldogs who are capable of being the No. 2 scoring option after Rushton, who is averaging 18.8 points. Eight of her teammates are averaging at least 4.6 points: Abby Heemstra (9.6), Pauli (7.3), Taylor Farrell (7.0), Sadie Powell (6.9), Kayla Luebbe (6.3), Bailey Conrad (5.5), Kendal Brigham (5.0) and Mackenzie Toomey (4.6). Farrell came up big at Wayland Baptist in pouring in 17 points while making her first four tries from 3-point range. As a team, Concordia is shooting 38.5 percent from the field, 30.4 percent from beyond the arc and 68.5 percent from the foul line.

The opponents
Morningside was the arch nemesis for the Bulldogs last season. Concordia fell four times to the Mustangs, including matchups in the GPAC tournament championship game and in the NAIA national quarterfinals. Accomplished Head Coach Jamie Sale returns plenty of firepower with reigning GPAC Player of the Year Sierra Mitchell having come back for a fifth season. Four Morningside players are averaging more than 13.0 points per game: Taylor Rodenburgh (17.0), Mitchell (15.6), Chloe Lofstrom (13.3) and Sophia Peppers (13.3). The Mustangs are riding a five-game win streak since starting out 0-2.

Northwestern is the lone women’s basketball program within the GPAC that has a new head coach in 2021-22. Head Coach Kristin Rotert has taken over a talented roster put together by former Head Coach Chris Yaw and his staff. The Red Raiders are off to a fine start that includes wins over then 11th-ranked MidAmerica Nazarene University (Kan.) and then fourth-ranked Marian University (Ind.). The standouts for Northwestern are Molly Schany (16.0 ppg), Taylor VanderVelde (12.7 ppg) and Devyn Kemble (12.5 ppg). Before heading to Seward, Northwestern will host Briar Cliff on Wednesday.

Next week
The Bulldogs will host Mount Marty on Dec. 8 and then play at Hastings on Dec. 11. Those two outings will be the final GPAC contests prior to New Year's Day.