Photo description: Concordia players huddle up after a play.
Photo credit: Josiah Seabaugh
The No. 4 Concordia Bulldogs lost the Great Plains Athletic Conference Championship game to No. 1 Northwestern College Red Raiders 3-2 in their first fifth set of the season.
In what was surely a game to go down in the record books, two of the top teams in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics met in Orange City, Iowa for the GPAC Championship. One of the top offenses in Concordia clashed with one of the top frontlines in Northwestern for the second time this season.
The Bulldogs struggled to get past the Northwestern front in the first set. The set was neck and neck until about 15-12, when the Raiders closed on a 10-5 run. The Raiders finished the set with eight total blocks, leading to a frigid -.019 percent hitting percentage. Because of its impressive front, Northwestern’s offense did not need to do anything special, only getting 11 kills while hitting at .140 percent.
Concordia found ways to get the ball through Northwestern’s front in the second set. With 20 kills at .275 percent, Head coach Ben Boldt and his team adjusted nicely after arguably their worst set of the season. Getting the Raiders front to move from pin to pin gave outside hitters more one on one opportunities to score. The set ended with a swapped score from the first 25-17.
The third set opened with the Bulldogs taking the lead halfway through the set, forcing Northwestern to use both timeouts at 13-10 and 17-14. Neither team wanted to give the other the opportunity to get any momentum, and Northwestern was able to slow the Bulldogs by going on a seven to two run including two big blocks. After giving up the lead to 23-21, the Bulldogs closed the set out thanks to three errors from the Raiders and a kill by senior Gabi Nordaker. Freshman Maddie Paulsen was playing well before she suffered an injury in this set.
To open the fourth, the Bulldogs jumped out early to a five to one lead. Not long after, the Raiders forced both timeouts after taking ten to eight, and 15-13 leads. Both teams struggled to stay efficient, as both teams hit under .140 percent. After the score was tied at 20, the Bulldogs returned the favor, with three attack errors, leading to their first fifth set of the season. The fifth set was tight, with each team fighting for a chance at a title. Northwestern led eight to five, and after the switch each team kept trading points. Northwestern was able to close it out 15-11.
The Bulldogs offense finished with 67 kills at .127 percent. Northwestern finished with 19 total blocks compared to five, and the Bulldogs finished with 38 total errors on the night. Senior Bree Burtwistle finished with 51 assists, while Sophomore Ashely Keck (20), Gabi Nordaker (14), and Junior Carly Rodaway (11) finished in double figures for the Bulldogs.
It’s important to note that Paulsen finished at nine kills halfway through the third set while hitting .353 percent. Coach Boldt deploys Paulsen in the middle, but often designs attacks that come from the right side which was a weak point for Northwestern. The hope is that the injury is not too serious, as the national tournament will begin soon for the Bulldogs.
On Defense, Nordaker led with four total blocks, while five Bulldogs finished in double digit digs. Junior Rebecca Gebhardt (25) led the way, with Burtwistle (24), Opfer (20), Keck (19), and junior Cassidy Knust (15) right behind.
While this year’s Tournament ends in a similar way to the last few, the Bulldogs will now turn their attention to the national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, as they secured an automatic bid by making it to the championship. Opening Rounds begin Nov. 18, where Concordia could potentially host a team for their final home game of the season.