It’s official. For the fifth time in the last six years, and for the 12th time in program history, Concordia women’s basketball is headed to the NAIA Division II National Championships. The complete bracket, announced Wednesday night by the NAIA, tabbed the Bulldogs as a No. 3 seed and pitted them against sixth-seeded Cardinal Stritch University (Wis.) in the first round at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 7 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
The first-round game will be a rematch of last season’s second round contest in which the Bulldogs cruised to a 69-48 victory over Cardinal Stritch. Concordia holds an all-time tournament record of 2-0 against the Wolves, having also beaten Cardinal Stritch 65-51 in the second round in 2005.
“When we played them last year it was a tough, physical game,” Olson said. “They had two pretty good posts and a really good shooter at guard. I don’t know if it’s the same team or not this season, but the fact that they got to their conference finals shows they’re playing well.”
The Wolves, led by third-year head coach John Pfaffl, own a record of 26-7 overall and are ranked 21st in the national coaches’ poll. They received an automatic bid to Sioux City by finishing as the runner up in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament. Cardinal Stritch ranks seventh in NAIA Division II in scoring defense (54.1) and 13th in rebound margin (plus-7.8). Star sophomore forward Michelle Piepenburg leads the team with averages of 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds.
The Bulldogs finished last season’s national tournament unsatisfied with their 74-70 Fab Four loss to College of the Ozarks (Mo.) on March 12. Despite falling to Northwestern in last week’s GPAC semifinal game, Concordia remains confident it can make a deep run in Sioux City. Donning bracelets throughout the season with the words “unfinished business” printed on them, the Bulldogs feel like they have something to prove.
“’Unfinished Business’ refers to the business we failed to take care of last March in Sioux City,” sophomore Bailey Morris said. “It’s been a long-term goal since the beginning of the season (to take care of the unfinished business) and is often discussed. We’ve set some high standards for ourselves, and I’m confident that we can achieve them.”
Olson could sense this unique confidence and determination in his team entering the 2012-13 season. With the calendar about to flip to March, that attitude has not changed.
“It says a lot about our program that we expect not just to get to the tournament, but to do well when we get there,” Olson said. “This group especially had the mindset that it wouldn’t be good enough just to get there. They weren’t going to be satisfied by that.”
As the No. 9-rated team in NAIA Division II, Concordia ranks first among the 11 schools that received at-large bids. A total of 21 squads gained entry into the tournament by way of automatic bids. Morningside and Northwestern earned the two GPAC automatic berths, while Briar Cliff joins Concordia in the at-large pool. The four national tournament GPAC squads were each placed in their own quadrants of the bracket.
With a deep and experienced backcourt and a relentless, full-court pressure defense, Concordia employs the type of talent and style that figures to give unfamiliar foes headaches. The Bulldogs enter the national tournament ranked third nationally in steals per game (16.4), third in turnover margin (plus-10.8), seventh in scoring offense (81.2), eighth in scoring margin (plus-18.2) and 10th in 3-point field goals per game (8.0).
The impressive numbers aside, Concordia now begins a new season against a worthy opponent.
“I think a lot of people would agree that the tournament the last three or four years has gotten even tougher,” Olson said. “It used to be that the top seeds were definitely going to win. Now everyone is a tough out in the first round.”
The first 30 tournament games from Sioux City, Iowa, will be available via the NAIA’s live video stream for $29.95 and any single day can be purchased for $9.95. For more information and to pre-register, click here.
The National Championship final on Tuesday, March 12 will be televised live nationally on CBS Sports Network with tip-off at 6 p.m. CST.