SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Bracket) No. 1 seeds from the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) – Morningside (Iowa) and Concordia (Neb.) – meet one final time in the 2014-15 season with the ultimate prize of the 2015 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship, presented by State Farm, on the line.
Tonight’s 7:02 p.m. CDT matchup is the fourth time this season the two schools will hit the hardwood against each other. The game will be streaming live, coast-to-coast on ESPN3.com.
The Bulldogs will be making their first appearance in program history in the final game, whereas the Mustangs will play for it all for the fourth time as a school (3-0; most recently in 2009 against Hastings (Neb.), 68-63).
Not only is it unique for two teams to line up against each in a quartet of contests in one season, but both schools have three combined losses – all to the other competitor.
The Bulldogs (35-2) dropped the first two clashes against the Mustangs (78-70 on Nov. 15, 2014; 77-76 on Feb. 21), but the third time was Concordia’s charm. The Bulldogs strolled into Rosen Verdoorn Sports Center on March 3 and slayed Morningside’s school-record 39-game home court winning streak en route to the GPAC tournament championship, 80-72.
Before the aforementioned loss to Concordia, the Mustangs (36-1) had not lost on their home floor since Jan. 9, 2013. The loss also snapped a 32-straight run of GPAC regular-season wins.
In this year’s competition, Morningside went through the likes of UC Merced (Calif.), 79-45; Oklahoma Wesleyan, 74-66; Saint Francis (Ind.), 79-62; and Hastings (Neb.) last night, 66-63. By going 4-0 in this year, the Mustangs are now 34-9 (.791) all-time in the national championship.
In a competition where a survive and advance mentality is the bottom line, no win is easy. The Mustangs know that all too well. In their second round tilt with Oklahoma Wesleyan, the Mustangs overcame a 17-point deficit with a furious comeback in front of a home court-like atmosphere fueling the rally.
Most recently, the Broncos cut a 55-39 Morningside lead with 5:59 remaining down to one with a couple ticks left. A few free throw attempts later the inbounds pass from Rachel Jelden with two seconds on the clock went astray, opening the door for the Mustangs to once again put the game away.
Hastings was down 66-63 when once again the inbounds pass was too high. The season slipped away as the Broncos watched the Mustangs run out the remaining time and punch a ticket to tonight’s final.
Morningside is averaging 74.5 points per game in the national championship (77.2 in the regular season). Individually – With sidelined senior forward Ashlynn Muhl watching from the stands – Jessica Tietz has filled in nicely with 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per outing in Sioux City, Iowa.
For the Bulldogs, they have clawed their way through the championship with victories over Bryan (Tenn.), 76-35; College of Saint Mary (Neb.), 92-82; Jamestown (N.D.), 76-59; and a 10-point victory over fellow conference member Briar Cliff (Iowa), 72-62, last night.
The four Concordia triumphs up its total to 22-13 (.629) in 14 championship appearances. The team had made the semifinals three times before the 2015 edition, but never made it over the hump into the final, until Monday night’s victory over the Chargers.
In an off-shooting game for senior All-American Bailey Morris, Concordia flashed the depth of its roster. During a game-defining 15-0 run in the final five minutes, Becky Mueller curled in a trey just ahead of the shot clock buzzer and Mary Janovich dropped in a mid-range jumper.
Morris wouldn’t stay cold all night. After going 2-for-16 to begin the game, Morris drilled a pair of triples from the left corner during the run. The second triple was a back breaker with 1:22 left that put the Bulldogs up 69-56. Like all season long, Morris and company again played big in crunch time.
Concordia is currently third in the national championship in points put up per game at 79.0 (84.6 in regular season). Morris is netting 18.5 points a contest this week, and is joined by teammate Tracy Peitz in double-figure scoring at 15.8.
The stage is set for round four of Morningside against Concordia. Tonight, the journey to find the story-book ending to the season will be realized for one school.
For the other, the 2014-15 year comes to an end with a national championship trophy slipping through its fingertips.