Concordia earns #1 seed for NAIA Tournament

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The bracket is now set. After sewing up GPAC regular season and postseason titles, the Concordia University women’s basketball team has earned the overall No. 1 seed for the 2019 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships. The reward is a first-round matchup with eighth-seeded Wilberforce University (Ohio) at 12 p.m. CST on Wednesday, March 6. This will mark the 18th all-time national tournament appearance for the Bulldog program.

Concordia has qualified for the national tournament for the 11th time in head coach Drew Olson’s 13-year tenure. The Bulldogs withstood significant losses in the backcourt from the 2018 graduations of Dani Hoppes and Mary Janovich while putting themselves in position for another hopeful deep March postseason run.

“It’s just a really special group,” Olson said following Tuesday’s GPAC tournament championship game victory over Dakota Wesleyan. “Every year is a unique, different team. This team is full of phenomenal kids – tough as nails. I love them.”

A week from today, Concordia will return to the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, which has hosted the NAIA Division II women’s championship since 1998. The Bulldogs have enjoyed plenty of success in the building having reached at least the semifinal round in three of the past four seasons. The only thing they haven’t done is cut down the final net. Concordia finished as a national runner up in 2015 and again in 2018.

It’s fair to say that the Bulldogs have the ability to be the last one standing when the dust settles. Concordia has won 12 games against the national qualifying field and owns at least one win over each of the other three No. 1 seeds in the bracket: Dakota Wesleyan, Northwestern and Southeastern (Fla.). The field includes six GPAC squads, including first time national qualifier Dordt. The Defenders would likely match up with Southeastern in the second round should they get past IU Northwest (Ind.) in the first.

Wilberforce (14-12) will be a completely unfamiliar opponent for Concordia. Also known as the Bulldogs, Wilberforce earned an automatic bid to the national tournament via a third-place finish in the Association of Independent Institutions Conference tournament. Wilberforce is located in Wilberforce, Ohio. On paper, these Bulldogs appear to play a much slower pace. They average 64.6 points while allowing 61.8 points. Head coach Derek Williams’ squad has limited opponents to 38.2 percent shooting.

It’s always a challenge for unfamiliar foes to deal with the Bulldog press. With 1,009 turnovers forced this season, Concordia needs just six more to break the program single-season record of 1,014 by the 2014-15 national runner up squad. A couple of other milestones are worth watching. Quinn Wragge (1,729 career points) needs eight more points to move into fifth place on the school’s all-time scoring list. In addition, GPAC Player of the Year Philly Lammers is five points away from 1,500 for her career.

The winner in next Wednesday’s matinee will move on and play either fourth-seeded Sterling (Kan.) or fifth-seeded Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) at 12 p.m. CST on Friday. Concordia has a history with both programs at the national tournament. In national tournament matchups, the Bulldogs are 3-1 versus Cardinal Stritch and 2-0 versus Sterling.