Back-to-back losses late in the regular season left the Concordia (St. Paul) women’s basketball team’s playoff hopes in jeopardy.
“Both of the losses were heartbreaking,” Golden Bears coach Paul Fessler said. “We didn’t play well and we didn’t execute. We told the team that we were on the bubble for getting in the NCAA tourney. The team really rallied.”
Since the one-point loss to Minnesota-Crookston and a three-point loss to Bemidji State in mid-February, the Golden Bears have won nine consecutive games to earn the program’s first berth in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
The Golden Bears (28-8) will play Nova Southeastern in the quarterfinals on Tuesday in Erie, Pa.
“The team focused and really came back strong and has played well,” Fessler said. “We’ve played really strong defense. They’ve bought into the game plan and executed our game plan.”
The Golden Bears won their final two regular-season games before winning four games to claim the NSIC tournament championship. In the final, the Golden Bears defeated Northern State 54-36. The Wolves had defeated the Golden Bears 61-59 on Jan. 11.
Despite the tourney championship, the Golden Bears were the No. 7 seed for the eight-team Central Regional in Searcy, Ark. Concordia opened regional play with a 68-57 victory over host Harding, which was ranked No. 2 in Division II. The Golden Bears followed with victories over Central Missouri and Emporia State. The three-point victory over Emporia State avenged a 71-52 loss to Emporia on Nov. 10.
Offensively, Concordia relies on 6-2 junior forward Anika Whiting and guards Rachel Hansen, Ameshia Kearney and Carissa Wolyniec.
Whiting, who is averaging 17.8 points per game, is the first player in program history to score more than 600 points in a season. Hansen is averaging 13 points per game, while Wolyniec and Kearney have combined to make 163 three-pointers.
“My four teammates have made my job easier,” Whiting said. “Teams can’t double-team me because of our outside game. Since Day One in the preseason, our goal was to do something in the NCAA tourney. After those losses near the end of the regular season we said, ‘It’s now or never.’ ’’