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Cockerill pours in 33; 11th-ranked Bulldogs fall in opener

Cockerill pours in 33; 11th-ranked Bulldogs fall in opener

SEWARD, Neb. – More than anything, the past few days have seemed to prove that Dakota State University is quite good. Just two days after a victory over eighth-ranked Dordt, the Trojans spoiled the season opener for the 11th-ranked Concordia University Women’s Basketball team. The North Star Athletic Association member emerged from the first game of the 21st annual Cattle Classic with a 94-82 victory on Thursday (Nov. 5).

Fifteenth-year Head Coach Drew Olson debuted a team that looks a whole lot different than the one that ended the 2019-20 season ranked No. 1 in NAIA Division II. Three freshmen got the nod in a starting lineup that was 100 percent different from the group that took the court in the final game of last season.

Said Olson, “Our team is so young and we have to learn and grow. We want to be challenged so we can figure out what we need to be better at. I think tonight was a good thing for that.”

Let’s start with the good. If Taylor Cockerill isn’t all the way back from the knee injury that sidelined her for 2019-20, then she’s pretty close. Cockerill had been waiting more than a year to get return to the court – and she played like it. The Waverly High School product finished with 33 points (16-for-22 from the foul line), a career high 14 rebounds and four steals. Cockerill’s tenacity on the floor will set the tone for this young squad.

It was certainly a tough assignment in game No. 1. Dakota State (2-1) boasts a star of its own in Jessi Giles, who went wild for 30 points on 10-for-18 shooting from the floor. Giles and company turned a tight game early in the fourth quarter (68-63 Trojan lead with under 8:30 left) into a runaway. Dakota State held the Bulldogs without a field goal for nearly five minutes and took advantage with a 19-6 run.

As Olson pointed out, it’s always going to be a challenge to win when your side commits 28 turnovers and shoots 9-for-40 from 3-point range, as Concordia did. On the other end, the Trojans (2-1) shot 48.3 percent (29-for-60) from the floor and 45.5 percent (10-for-22) from 3-point range. Dakota State is turning some heads in the early going.

“I thought Dakota State played really well,” Olson said. “Defensively they were tough and caused us to get a little bit out of rhythm. Bottom line is we have to make shots and you can’t turn the ball over. Defensively we were okay at times – the foul trouble really hurt us … We have to be more disciplined.”

Cockerill was joined in the starting lineup by junior Rylee Pauli and freshmen Kendal Brigham, Bailey Conrad and Taysha Rushton. Rushton (11) and Conrad (10) both reached double figures in scoring. So too did Taylor Farrell (10) off the bench. Three Bulldogs wound up fouling out, cutting into the team’s frontcourt depth.

Former Bulldog Elsie Aslesen made her presence felt as a new member of the Trojans. She put up 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Dakota State also got 14 points off the bench from Savannah Walsdorf and Lexi Robson dished out eight assists. The visitors did fall victim to Concordia’s pressure at times (25 turnovers), but made up for it with hot shooting.

Beating the Bulldogs on their home floor is a big deal. The senior class that just departed after the 2019-20 season went a combined 63-1 inside Walz over four seasons.

As part of the revised Cattle Classic schedule, Concordia will have Friday off before hosting 20th-ranked Carroll College (Mont.) at 2 p.m. CT on Saturday. The Saints will be opening up their season in Seward.

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