Top-ranked Concordia women win program’s first NAIA Division II basketball national title

The third time was the charm for the Concordia women’s basketball team.

After finishing as national runner-up in 2015 and last season, top-ranked Concordia claimed the NAIA Division II championship with a 67-59 win over second-ranked Southeastern University of Florida in the final Tuesday night in Sioux City, Iowa.

“It’s amazing the bar that has been set by past teams,” Concordia coach Drew Olson said. “For us to finally get over the hump, I’m so proud of them.”

Southeastern had outlasted Dakota Wesleyan in double overtime in Monday’s semifinals. Concordia lost last year’s final to Wesleyan, its GPAC rival. Olson said that was “a terrible feeling.”

But on Tuesday, Concordia never trailed in the second half as it finally left Sioux City with an elusive title.

Grace Barry led four Bulldogs in double figures with 15 points, seven assists and four steals. Taylor Cockerill had 13 points, Philly Lammers added 11 points and 12 rebounds — she had 10 boards after halftime — and Quinn Wragge chipped in 11 points.

“We have so many scorers,” said Barry, a Lincoln East grad who was named the tournament MVP. “I 100 percent believe the reason we were so successful is because we had so many scoring threats.”

The game was tied 37-37 at halftime after both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field. Lammers then scored five points in the first minute of the second half to put the Bulldogs ahead for good.

After Southeastern hit nine 3-pointers in the first half, it went 3 of 11 on 3s and shot 21 percent overall from the field after halftime.

“Our defense just really focused in and tightened up on their scorers,” Olson said.

There were anxious moments down the stretch, though. Cockerill made a tough left-handed layup with 1:20 left to make it 64-59. That was Concordia’s only field goal in the final eight minutes.

But after hitting free throws and a couple of more defensive stops, the Bulldogs were able to celebrate at midcourt with confetti falling down around them.

In other Midlands notes:

» A pair of junior college women’s basketball teams are preparing for national tournaments.

Western Nebraska, which is on a 17-game winning streak, will play in the NJCAA Division I nationals in Lubbock, Texas. The 29-3 Cougars won their regional Saturday and will face Hutchinson, Kansas, in their opening game Monday at 5 p.m.

North Platte, which entered the postseason with a 5-22 record, won three straight games to claim the NJCAA Division II Region IX District F title. North Platte overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to win its final. The national tournament begins Tuesday in Harrison, Arkansas.

» The Peru State men beat Benedictine, the top-ranked team in NAIA Division I, 74-65 in the Heart of America Conference final on Tuesday. Peru has qualified for the national tournament, which begins March 20 in Kansas City.

» Northwest Missouri State (32-0) is hosting the Central Region of the NCAA Division II men’s basketball tournament beginning Saturday. Eight teams are at the region, and Wayne State just missed out on an at-large bid. The Wildcats ended their season 21-10, marking the first time since 1999-2000 that they won at least 20 games in a season.

» Chadron State sophomore Isaac Grimes won a gold and a silver at the NCAA Division II indoor track meet over the weekend. Grimes won the long jump with a jump of 25-8¾ on his final attempt. He went at least 24-10 on all six of his attempts in the event. The next day he finished second in the triple jump, going 51-8¼. He became the first Chadron athlete ever to surpass 50 feet in that event.

» Nebraska Wesleyan’s women’s 1,600-meter relay won the NCAA Division III national title at its indoor meet Saturday. Between indoor and outdoor seasons, it marks the sixth straight time Wesleyan has won that event at nationals. Team members were Anna Frazier, Kaylee Jones, Aspen Rolfes and Elizabeth Jones. The Joneses, twin sisters, have been part of all six gold medal-winning relay teams. Elizabeth Jones also finished third in the open 400.