The confetti. Drew Olson will remember the confetti.

"Last year when we lost (in the final) my (children) came down to kind of comfort me and they kind of played in the confetti," Olson said. "I had to explain to them that that's not ours.

"This year, I just let them roam free and they were all over the place ... knowing that that confetti is ours."

Olson's kids played with the confetti. His Concordia players celebrated in it following a 67-59 win against Southeastern (Florida) in the NAIA Division II women's basketball final last week in Sioux City, Iowa.

A season after losing to Dakota Wesleyan in the NAIA final, Concordia got its national championship.

"Seeing our players' faces, the joy they had," Olson said. "(Senior) Quinn Wragge is not a high-emotion person -- she has a calming presence -- she was just moved to tears of joy. (Sophomore) Taylor Cockerill was the same way.

"Just seeing the fun and the joy that they had accomplishing that together is another thing that I'll never forget."

Concordia is a perennial power in NAIA basketball, but the top trophy had eluded the Bulldogs, who had qualified for 11 national tournaments in 13 seasons. They reached the final four multiple times, including the national final last year.

But there was something about this team that led Olson and the players to believe that this could be their year.

Wragge and junior Philly Lammers formed one of the nation's top frontcourts, and Cockerill flourished in her first year as a starter. Nebraska-Kearney transfer Grace Barry gave the Bulldogs a dynamic and tone-setting point guard.

"It felt like this group was a little bit different in the amount of players that can take over and carry the team at times," Olson said. "It felt like this could be the year, but it's never pure confidence. You're still nervous and tense and wanting to push for it."

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It wasn't just Wragge, Lammers, Cockerill and Barry. Concordia got key contributions from several players throughout the year. For example, Olson pointed to Mackenzie Helman's three-pointer that sparked a 17-0 run after Concordia trailed Southeastern 11-3.

Concordia's title run goes beyond the current players, too, and Olson made sure to give former Bulldogs a shoutout moments following the national championship game.

On Monday, Olson said it was very important to point to the ex-Bulldogs and their contributions.

"I feel like a huge reason why we were able to win this season was because of some of the things that we learned along the way," he said. "Past teams and past players have raised the bar of our program to now expecting to be in the final four, expecting to do really well. We wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for them.

"Maybe they didn't get to feel the same accomplishment at the time that this team did, but this championship is much theirs as it is ours."

The Concordia convoy got back to Seward on Wednesday. A pep rally ensued and then the underclassmen were given the rest of the week off in terms of basketball duties. 

Olson will meet with them Tuesday, and yes, shooting for back-to-back titles will be a talking point. Four starters -- Lammers, Cockerill, Barry and Riley Sibbel -- will return in 2019-20.

"Back at it, kind of re-motivate them in a different way," Olson said. "Last year it was easy to motivate them. They were already chomping at the bit to get going and want to make up for that. This year it will be different and we're excited about that challenge."

When it comes to motivation, Olson doesn't foresee there being a challenge.

"Them seeing how Quinn Wragge got to end her career, this junior class, they're going to be thinking the same thing, like, 'We want to go out just like she said,'" Olson added. "That will be an easy motivating factor."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.


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