It’s been double the March Madness around the Concordia basketball programs.
Coach Drew Olson’s women’s program is a perennial national title contender, and it goes into this year’s NAIA Division II tournament as the defending champion.
For the men, though, they’re heading to nationals for the first time since 2005.
“We share bus rides, and there’s a lot of camaraderie throughout the season (between the programs),” Concordia men’s coach Ben Limback said. “Coach Olson and I are great friends, and I spend a lot of time in his office picking his brain for what to do from a coaching standpoint at nationals. What a blessing it is to have both teams there.”
Concordia’s women, the tournament’s top overall seed, open play at nationals against Wilberforce (Ohio) at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, while the men open against Ottawa (Kan.) at 10:15 a.m. Thursday.
Limback is no stranger to the NAIA tournament. As a player at Concordia, he competed in the tournament three times in the 1990s.
“You need to cherish every moment because you don’t know the next time you’re going to be back there,” Limback said. “We want to have the mindset that we have to win, we have to win to move on. The last three weeks, that’s kind of how we’ve been playing, with our backs against the wall.”
A No. 4 seed in the GPAC tournament, Concordia knew it would have to win the conference tournament to advance to nationals. The Bulldogs played at Dakota Wesleyan in the final, raced to a 15-point halftime lead and held on for a 68-66 win.
Concordia was picked to finish eighth in the GPAC preseason poll, which put “a little chip on our shoulder,” Limback said. Concordia finished 15-16 last season, but Limback watched that young team improve as the season went on.
The Bulldogs returned all their starters and are 24-9 this season. They take a seven-game win streak to nationals.
They have hit 369 3-pointers, averaging 11 per game. Their balanced attack is led by Brevin Sloup, a first-team all-conference guard, and Tanner Shuck, who has 1,559 career points, eighth-most in program history.
The Concordia women (31-2) are balanced, too, but they prefer to overwhelm opponents with their depth. Philly Lammers and Grace Barry are the only double-figure scorers at 13.9 points a game, but seven other regulars average more than five points for a team that averages 89.
Concordia won the GPAC regular-season and tournament titles each of the past four years.
“That shows what this senior group is about, what this program is about,” Olson said. “When you have a player like Taylor Cockerill go down, we’ve been different, but we find other ways to win.”
Cockerill, an all-conference guard last season, suffered a season-ending knee injury in an exhibition game. But the Bulldogs still have been at or near the top of the national rankings all season.
“We’ve grown and we’ve grown together,” said Lammers, a Millard West grad who has more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career. “I think we’ve just gotten closer on and off the court. We’ve gotten to know each other on a personal level, not just as basketball players. That’s helped us achieve all the things we have so far this season.”
The Hastings women, who handed Concordia one of its two losses, are the overall No. 4 seed at nationals. The Broncos’ opening game is at 7 p.m. Thursday.
In other Midlands notes:
» The Doane men and Concordia women each finished fourth at the NAIA indoor track meet over the weekend. For the men, Doane’s Levi Sudbeck repeated as heptathlon champion, while Midland’s Dylan Kucera and Seth Sabata went 1-2 in the shot put. For the women, Concordia’s Rachel Battershell set a school record in winning the 400 in 54.77 seconds, while Doane’s Kate Grint won the shot put.
» UNK has five wrestlers seeded in the top seven for the NCAA Division II tournament, which begins Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
» The Western Nebraska women are the No. 7 seed for the NJCAA Division I basketball tournament, which begins Monday in Lubbock, Texas. The Cougars (28-2) had their 26-game win streak snapped last Saturday in a 66-64 loss to Casper College in the Region IX final.
» Concordia left-hander Jason Munsch set a baseball program record with 20 strikeouts against Morningside on Saturday.