SEWARD, Neb. – The 42nd national tournament game in the history of the Concordia University women’s basketball program will get underway at 12 p.m. CT on Wednesday, March 7 when the Bulldogs take on Stillman College of Tuscaloosa, Ala. Drew Olson’s teams have now qualified for the national tournament in 10 of his 12 seasons at the helm of the program. Concordia is the top seed in the Liston Bracket.
Ranked No. 2 in the national poll released on Wednesday, the Bulldogs will enter March as one of the favorites and as a team that expects to get comfortable in Sioux City. Over the past six seasons, Concordia is the only NAIA Division II women’s basketball program to advance to the national semifinals three times. Each of those runs ultimately concluded with close defeats that left the Bulldogs agonizingly short of the ultimate prize.
Based on its unmatched pre-national tournament résumé, Concordia clearly has the makings of a team capable of playing into the middle of March. Olson has guided this year’s group to 14 wins over teams that appeared inside the top 25 of the new national poll. Ten of those wins came against top three seeds in the bracket. The Bulldogs have beaten two of the fellow No. 1 seeds – both on the road – College of the Ozarks (Mo.) and Saint Xavier (Ill.). Concordia is clearly battle tested.
Said GPAC Coach of the Year Drew Olson, “It makes us confident that we can play with anybody. Playing all those teams, especially on the road, gives us more toughness in those adverse situations.”
National tournament experience will be another factor working in the Bulldogs’ favor. Nine of the 15 players on the roster have played on the national stage. Seniors Brenleigh Daum and Mary Janovich were members of the 2014-15 squad that became the first in school history to reach the national championship game. They were also key pieces in last year’s national semifinal run. Daum appears to be playing the best basketball of her career. She emerged as the hero in Tuesday’s GPAC championship game after sinking the game-winner just before the buzzer.
Olson would not be opposed to seeing Daum’s scoring productivity continue. A second team All-American last season, sophomore Philly Lammers looked especially dominant during the GPAC tournament. Olson’s typical nine-player rotation includes a little bit of everything and has often allowed Concordia to steamroll unprepared opponents at the national tournament. The ingredients are in place, but this is the time of year when anything can happen.
“Going into the tournament, you have to have the focus of one game at a time,” Olson said. “We don’t want are kids looking too far in advance. You have to stay level-headed. You can be playing really well but it still takes a couple breaks here and there. With our team this season, we’re a little more adaptable. I think it will help in those situations where maybe things aren’t going our way.”
Stillman is a completely unfamiliar foe. The Tigers (19-11) moved from NCAA Division II to NAIA beginning with the 2016-17 academic year. The Tigers locked in a bid to the national tournament by way of a runner-up finish at the Association of Independent Institutions Tournament. Head coach Alico Dunk is in his first season at Stillman. The Bulldogs’ preferred frenetic pace will clash with the Tigers, who average 56.6 points per game and allow 55.6. Stillman opponents have shot only 35.1 percent from the floor.
The winner will move on to play either fourth-seeded Taylor (Ind.) or fifth-seeded Northwest Christian (Ore.) in the second round at 10:15 a.m. on Friday, March 9. Another semifinal advancement might require Concordia to again defeat future GPAC member Jamestown, the No. 2 seed in the Liston Bracket. The Bulldogs defeated the Jimmies in the national quarterfinals of the 2015 and 2017 tournaments.
- In its first 16 appearances at the national championships, Concordia has posted a record of 25-16 with five trips to the national semifinals and four quarterfinal finishes. The Bulldogs are 10-6 overall in first-round games, including a 9-4 mark in the last 13 first-round contests. All of the program’s 16 national qualifying seasons have come since 1992 – the same year the NAIA split into two divisions for both men’s and women’s basketball.
- Concordia carries a record of 14-0 this season against teams that have qualified for the national tournament. The 14 wins have come over No. 1 seeds College of the Ozarks and Saint Xavier (Ill.), No. 2 seeds Dakota Wesleyan (three times) and Jamestown, No. 3 seeds Hastings (twice) and Northwestern (twice), fourth-seeded Morningside (three times) and fifth-seeded St. Francis (Ill.).
- Nine of the 15 players on the Bulldogs’ official national tournament roster have prior experience at the national tournament. These nine individuals have combined for 43 career games over appearances from 2015 through 2017. Mary Janovich played in each of the team’s five tournament games during the 2015 run to the championship game. Then just a freshman, Janovich totaled 57 points while going 13-for-24 from 3-point range. Janovich is a career 48.9 percent 3-point shooter (17-for-35) at the Tyson Events Center. Her eight career national tournament games and 80 career points at the national tournament are team highs. Six of her teammates have at least four games of national tournament experience: Brenleigh Daum (7), Sydney Feller (5), Quinn Wragge (5), Colby Duvel (4), Dani Hoppes (4) and Philly Lammers (4).
- Hoppes earned NAIA Division II all-tournament honors last season after she poured in a combined 44 points while going 16-for-36 (.444) from beyond the arc, helping lead Concordia to the national semifinals. Lammers and Wragge have also been productive on the national stage. In her first experience at the Tyson Events Center, Lammers put up 51 points and 39 rebounds over four games. Over two separate trips to nationals, Wragge has averaged 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. In her first national tournament game (2016 vs. Goshen College), Wragge notched 24 points and 10 rebounds.
- In the program’s first 41 games at the national tournament, the Bulldogs have averaged 73.6 points per game (3,017 total points) while allowing an average of 65.2 points (2,672 total points). The school record for most team points scored in a single tournament game was broken last season in the 101-66 first-round win over Bryan College (Tenn.) (previous high was achieved in 2015 in the 92-82 win over College of Saint Mary). The Bulldogs’ stingiest defensive effort occurred in 2005 when they held Western Baptist to just 28 points in a 70-28 first-round victory.
- The 2015 national championships saw Concordia advance to the national title game for the first time in program history. National player of the year Bailey Morris led the way, averaging 17.6 points at the tournament in leading the Bulldogs to wins over Bryan College (76-35), College of Saint Mary (92-82), University of Jamestown (76-59) and Briar Cliff (72-62). Concordia was edged in the championship game, 59-57, by top-ranked Morningside.
- Head coach Drew Olson has been at the controls for each of Concordia’s past 10 national tournament appearances (including 2018). Olson also helped the Bulldog men to two national tournaments as a player and was part of three such trips to the grand stage as an assistant men’s coach at Bellevue University.
- Olson became the fifth coach in program history to lead the Bulldogs to the national tournament when he made his first appearance as head coach in 2008. Now with 10 national tournament appearances, Olson has seven more than Todd Voss for the most among head coaches in school history. Here are the all-time records for Bulldog coaches at the national tournament:
- Drew Olson: 14-9 (10 appearances; one national title game appearance; three Fab Fours; two quarterfinal finishes)
- Todd Voss: 8-3 (three appearances; two Fab Fours; one quarterfinal finish)
- Mark Lemke: 2-2 (two appearances; one quarterfinal finish)
- Micah Parker: 1-1 (one appearance)
- Carl Everts: 0-1 (one appearance)
- Concordia has made a living in the NAIA national rankings. It has appeared in 84-straight top 25 polls dating back to the 2011-12 preseason rating. Throughout this season, the Bulldogs have been rated no lower than third and peaked at No. 1 (Jan. 9 and 23 polls). Concordia is aiming to finish a season with a national ranking for the ninth time under Olson. The program’s highest final ranking was No. 2 in 2015. Four-straight senior classes have played for ranked Bulldog teams for their entire collegiate careers.
- Great Plains Athletic Conference members have won 12 of the last 17 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships. Northwestern has five national titles during that stretch while Morningside has four and Hastings three. The GPAC had advanced at least two teams into the Fab Four six-straight years until the streak was snapped in 2014. Two or more GPAC teams have reached the semifinals in 13 of the past 17 years. In 2012, Concordia, Briar Cliff and Northwestern all appeared in the semifinals. Then in 2015, the semifinals were GPAC exclusive as Briar Cliff, Concordia, Hastings and Morningside were the last four left standing.