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Heading into postseason, Concordia women's basketball team prepared after embracing new identity

Heading into postseason, Concordia women's basketball team prepared after embracing new identity


Drew Olson watched his previous Concordia women’s basketball team simply wear down opponents with stifling pressure defense.

The Bulldogs, who had won the previous four GPAC regular-season titles, had to come up with a new game plan this season. Or new game plans, if you will.

“We’ve found an identity throughout the season,” the Concordia coach said.

Concordia returned just one player — Mackenzie Koepke — who started any games last season when the Bulldogs were the defending national champions and the top seed at the NAIA tournament. That event was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So instead of applying constant pressure, Olson said this season’s team has gone into games with more detailed plans tailored toward opponents.

“I think our team has embraced that and been locked into different scouting reports, different plans of attack,” Olson said. “I feel we almost have a different defense every game.”

It’s worked as the season’s gone on. The learning process was bumpy at the beginning as the Bulldogs started 0-3 — Concordia had compiled a 137-10 record the previous four years. The Bulldogs were 6-5 in mid-December, but have gone 12-2 since then.

They’ve done it with two freshmen as starting guards — Taysha Rushton and Bailey Conrad — and a starting front line of Koepke, Rylee Pauli and Taylor Cockerill.

Olson said Cockerill still isn’t 100% after suffering a torn ACL and partially torn MCL in October 2019. But the Waverly graduate still has been productive, leading the Bulldogs in scoring (14.5), rebounding (6.3) and assists (3.0).

“She’s so good to our team in terms of showing the way for our freshmen, our sophomores,” Olson said. “On the court, she’s been phenomenal. She’s taken on more of a rebounding role this year, a defensive role at times. She’s doing whatever it takes for our team to win.”

Concordia finished the GPAC regular season in second place behind Morningside. The Bulldogs open the conference tournament Wednesday at home against Dakota Wesleyan, which defeated the Bulldogs in January. Olson knows this isn’t your typical 2-vs.-7 matchup.

“You have the last two national champions playing in the first round of a conference tournament,” he said. “They’re really good, well-coached. They run so many sets it makes them tough to guard.”

The GPAC men’s tournament also starts Wednesday. Concordia and Dakota Wesleyan play in the first round of that tourney as the No. 4 and 5 seeds.

In other Midlands notes:

» Other conference basketball tournaments also begin this week, including the Northern Sun. The Wayne State men won the South Division regular-season title Sunday and will open tournament play against St. Cloud State on Thursday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The young Wildcats, who start two freshmen, are led by junior Jordan Janssen, a Lincoln East grad who averages 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds.

» The UNK wrestling team moved up to No. 1 in the NCAA Division II rankings last Friday. Matt Malcom also is No. 1 at 165 pounds. The Lopers will compete in their regional tournament Sunday.

» The GPAC indoor track meet finished Saturday at Dordt, and the Concordia women and Dordt men won team titles. The outstanding female athlete was Hastings’ Lauren Tamayo, a Ralston grad who won the pentathlon, high jump and 55 hurdles.