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The Quick Hitter: In women's basketball, GPAC proving to be as tough as ever

Dakota Wesleyan's Ashley Bray (20) makes a move to the basket as Mount Marty's Sarah Castaneda (32) defends during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Wednesday night at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

All it took was one upset.

On Wednesday, the Great Plains Athletic Conference women's basketball race took a dramatic twist as previously unbeaten and No. 1 Concordia fell at Midland 86-77. Midland is 12-14 overall and 7-9 in the GPAC and isn't one of the conference's five national title contenders, but that didn't stop the Warriors from controlling all four quarters against the Bulldogs. Concordia committed 20 turnovers and Midland went 23-of-35 from the free-throw line to pull off the shocking upset. It was Midland's first win over Concordia in women's basketball since February of 2001.

Wednesday's result sent a message across the conference that regular season crown is still up for grabs with five games remaining. As it stands on Thursday, Concordia still sits at the top at 14-1, while No. 10 Northwestern is second at 13-2 and No. 12 Dakota Wesleyan is third at 12-3, two games off first place. No. 13 Morningside is fourth at 11-4 and No. 11 Hastings is right behind them in fifth place at 10-5.

"Actually, it didn't surprise me because I know how our conference works. You have to be ready to play every night," DWU head coach Jason Christensen said about Wednesday's upset. "I've been in the short end of the stick in some of those like when we lost to College of Saint Mary last year in the final game of the year and they were at the bottom of the league."

The GPAC has long been known as a national power in NAIA women's hoops as the conference has claimed 12 national champions since its inception in 2000. Currently, five schools are ranked in the top-15 and each team has at least one conference victory this season. For the past three years no team has gone undefeated in the GPAC. Morningside was the last to do it in 2014-15 en route to the conference's last national title.

And the conference will only get tougher next season as the University of Jamestown joins. The Jimmies are currently ranked No. 6 in the latest coaches poll.

Christensen said Jamestown head coach Greg Ulland told him his team benefitted from facing DWU twice this season after the Tigers' 86-75 win on Jan. 20.

"They were rolling through everybody. Last year, they got to the national tournament and when they finally had a close game they didn't know what to do," Christensen said. "He was so happy we came up and played them because they need good competition. We get that night-in and night-out."

The Tigers have five GPAC games remaining starting with Briar Cliff on Saturday in Sioux City, Iowa. DWU will then face Morningside, College of Saint Mary, Northwestern and Concordia.

As always, the GPAC championship will play itself out and the champion will have earned it.

The Quick Hitter is a feature published only at mitchellrepublic.com regarding the local sports news of the day.

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