SIOUX CITY, IOWA — Drew Olson has had his team close so many times.
It took seven trips to the Final Four, but Concordia finally got the job finished on the national stage.
The Bulldogs reached the pinnacle of NAIA Division II basketball Tuesday night, defeating Southeastern (Florida) University 67-59 to claim the program’s first national championship at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
“This is just a testament to how much we work and how bad we want it,” said national tournament MVP Grace Barry, a Lincoln East graduate.
The Bulldogs definitely set that tone early.
Olson said his team got “steamrolled in a way” last year in the national championship against Dakota Wesleyan, so an 11-3 deficit in the first quarter caught his attention more than usual.
He called a timeout to get his players on the right page, and the Bulldogs responded with a run for the Concordia history books.
“I’m thinking, ‘How are our kids going to respond?’” Olson said. “That (the response) just shows their character and toughness. They didn’t labor and they’d been there before.”
A 17-0 run ensued after the timeout, and an eight-point Concordia deficit turned into a nine-point Bulldog lead.
“We’ve just learned to stay consistent,” Barry said. “No matter what they’re doing, we’re going to be us. We are going to play Bulldog basketball.”
Barry led the title run with 15 points and seven assists. She also played every minute of the contest and collected four steals.
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Barry and the extended Concordia zone defense put pressure on Southeastern for all 40 minutes. Concordia forced some turnovers in the first half that turned into points on the other end for the Bulldogs.
“That’s who we are,” Olson said. “We’re a team that needs to force turnovers and get easy baskets. We were able to do that early.”
The Fire responded with a barrage of three-pointers, nine in all in the first half, to race back and tie up the score at 37 after 20 minutes.
Despite giving up nine threes — which Olson said is not ideal but “you have to give something up when we extend on defense” — the Concordia defense settled in.
Southeastern’s leading scorer, Elsa Paulsson-Glantz, who averaged 17 points per game coming in, was held to two Tuesday.
Concordia ramped up the defensive pressure, and Waverly native Taylor Cockerill provided a spark. She scored five points in the final minute of the third quarter, including a three-pointer at the horn that gave the Bulldogs a 56-47 lead.
Cockerill finished with 13 points.
Concordia held off a fourth-quarter push from Southeastern that cut the lead to 61-59 with three minutes left. But free throws from four different Bulldogs sealed the win and the program’s first national championship.
“To be the first to anything for this program is incredible,” said Philly Lammers, who scored 11 points and grabbed a team-leading 12 rebounds.
“With these girls, it’s just so special. I love them and I’d do anything for them.”