Concordia could have shattered, its national championship hopes forgotten.
The women's basketball team lost point guard Kristen Conahan and reserve guard Bailey Morris to knee injuries during a Jan. 8 game with Midland University. Afterward, senior forward Britney Birtell got the news that her season was over, the result of a back injury she suffered in a car accident a few years ago.
Concordia already was without junior forward Jericca Pearson, the motor of the team, who blew out her knee on Dec. 30.
“I've never gone into a locker room after a win feeling like it was a huge loss and the season was over,” coach Drew Olson said. “That was a definite tough locker room and tough conversation we all had that night.”
But just as the Bulldogs beat Midland that night without both of their point guards, Concordia has persevered since then without some of its best players, The Bulldogs have gone 3-2 since that win to raise their record to 18-5 and 10-3 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. The two losses were to league leaders Northwestern and Hastings College, who sit ahead of Concordia in the standings.
The Bulldogs' goals remain intact.
“We're still going to battle and see how high we can get in the GPAC standings,” Olson said. “If we get to nationals, we're going to take it one day at a time and find ways to win.”
Morris, a junior from Roseland, Neb., has taken over at the point after sitting out one game with a bone bruise.
Conahan, a two-time NAIA All-American, has delayed surgery on her torn ACL to see if she can return in mid-February. The senior from Millard North, on pace to topple the school scoring record, has been fitted for a brace and is working on her range of motion. Olson said it's doubtful but not unheard of for her to play with a torn ACL, and he remains hopeful.
Younger players have stepped up to fill new roles, including Bellevue East freshman Shelby Quinn at the No. 2 spot and freshman Becky Mueller of Omaha Concordia at the 5 spot. Other starters are Kelsey Hizer of Hartington, Neb., at the 3 and Tracy Peitz of Parker, Colo., at the 4.
Quinn, Devin Edwards of Lincoln Northeast and Taylor Wissing of Seward have gone from spot duty to 15 or 20 minutes of playing time a game.
“Bailey (Morris) has taken on more of a ballhandling and leadership role than ever before. Becky Mueller, she has really come along and helped us with our scoring,” Olson said. “Collectively, the team has all kind of stepped up their game and taken on bigger roles.”
The Bulldogs have qualified for nationals in five of the past seven years under Olson. He thought this might be the year they would be title contenders. Now, they're a different team.
“Our room for error is a lot less,” Olson said. “I still think we have a team good enough or capable enough to win it.”
Central grad Reed sets Division II shot put record
Minnesota State senior Chris Reed hurled the shot 65 feet, 5½ inches to win the Jack Johnson Invitational at the University of Minnesota last weekend and break the previous NCAA Division II indoor record of 64-11½ held by Ashland's Kurt Roberts.
The Omaha Central graduate earned Division II national athlete of the week honors from the U.S. Track & Field/Cross Country Coaches Association for a second straight time.
The throw by Reed is the fourth best recorded in collegiate competition by an NCAA Division II student-athlete, indoor or outdoor.
He hit 65-2¾ on his fourth attempt to become the first Division II man to surpass 65 feet indoors, and topped himself with his 65-5½ on the next attempt.
» The Hastings College women's basketball team has won 14 straight. The Broncos are 20-2 and 11-2 in the GPAC.
» Chadron State seniors Alyssa Norton and Charith Kapukotuwa set school records Saturday during the Dave Little Open Track and Field Meet at Black Hills State in Spearfish. Norton won the shot put (48-6) while Kapukotuwa won the 35-pound weight throw (61-1).
» Junior forward Jordan Spencer scored 22 points to help No. 12 Wayne State defeat Sioux Falls 71-61 last weekend. It was her eighth game this season with 20 or more points. Ellen Hansen had 11 rebounds, her seventh game with 10 or more for the Wildcats (19-2, 12-2 NSIC).
» Chuck Brewer has become the all-time winningest basketball coach at the College of St. Mary. He is 92-68 in six years at CSM.
He and the previous record holder, Bob McCabe, were honored on Friday.
The Flames are 15-4 and 5-0 in the MCAC.
» The Northwest Missouri State football team will hold an autograph session at 3 p.m. on Feb. 9 in Bearcat Arena. Fans may interact with players and coaches from the NCAA Division II national championship team.
» The Chadron State booster club will present former wrestling coach Dr. Scott Ritzen an original painting during the Eagles' dual with Colorado School of Mines on Feb. 8. The painting of the Pine Ridge area that Ritzen and his wife, Donna, admire was created by local artist Kit Watson.
Ritzen, who coached the Eagles from 1987 to 2012, retired as the longest tenured coach in school history. He had a 134-139-8 record and has been inducted into the National Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
» Washington and Lee's Lizzy Stanton, a freshman from Papillion-La Vista South, broke the school's indoor record in the pole vault with a mark of 11-3¾ to earn first place in her first meet on Jan. 18. Last weekend, she tied for first at the Marietta Open with a mark of 10-11¾.
» UNK senior Elhadji Ndiaye has been selected to play in the College All-Star Bowl Game Feb. 14 in Greenville, S.C.
Projected as a defensive end or outside linebacker at the next level, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Ndiaye is one of five Division II players on the current player commitment list.
Ndiaye had 44 tackles last fall, including 9.5 for loss.
» Northwest Missouri State guard DeShaun Cooper was named the MIAA men's basketball player of the week. He hit a game-winning jumper with 3.3 seconds left to beat Missouri Southern 79-78 en route to a career-best 32 points. The win gave Northwest (14-5, 9-1) a one-game lead in the MIAA standings.