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‘Our biggest win of the year’: DWU women hold off Concordia in GPAC battle

DWU women have now won four of its last five games.

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Haylee Mork, from left, Kaylee Kirk, Rynn Osthus, Haidyn Pitsch and Matti Reiner celebrate the Tigers 85-80 win over Concordia University during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Wednesday night at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

It was a gritty performance for the Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team.

A 20-point lead nearly got taken from its grasp by Concordia (Neb.) on Wednesday at the Corn Palace, as the Bulldogs cut the lead to one point at multiple times. But the Tigers never folded.

They answered Concordia’s timely 3-pointers by getting open looks at the basket and mid-range jumpers, and then sank 8 of 10 free throws down the stretch to secure an 85-80 win.

The Tigers ended Concordia’s four-game winning streak, and have now won four of their last five games. It’s also their first win over the Bulldogs since the 2017-18 national championship game, snapping a five-game skid against the Great Plains Athletic Conference foe.

“That’s our biggest win of the year,” DWU coach Jason Christensen said. “Concordia is very good. They’re No. 2 in the conference. Being able to do what we did today was a lot of fun. We kept our composure.”
DWU’s (7-5, 5-5 GPAC) underclassmen played like seasoned veterans. It handled Concordia’s aggressive trapping press from the tip-off, with only three turnovers in the opening quarter to force the Bulldogs out of it and into a man-to-man defense.

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The Bulldogs (10-6, 9-4 GPAC) still deflected passes for 16 turnovers, though it was not the GPAC-best 23.2 takeaways per game Concordia is accustomed to forcing.

“I told the kids at halftime, ‘You’re doing a really good job with their press when he takes it off because he doesn’t like taking it off,’ ” Christensen said.

It played into DWU’s fast-paced offensive system, which saw it shoot 54.3 percent. It whipped passes around the perimeter to open shooters, but also was able to drive into the paint for easy baskets at the rim.

Haidyn Pitsch scored 16 of her team-high 25 points in the first half, as she and Isabel Ihnen, who had 14 points off the bench, each knocked down four 3s. Along with Kaylee Kirk tying her career-high 13 points and Tripp native Matti Reiner adding 17 points and eight boards, DWU’s lead ballooned to 42-22 midway through the second quarter.

“You always know coming into Concordia, they have that same press,” said Kirk, who also added seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. “... You have to stay calm, know that it’s coming and handle it.”
Led by a barrage of 3-pointers -- Concordia shot 11-for-30 from deep -- and starting to force more turnovers, Concordia cut into DWU’s lead. Taylor Cockerill scored nine of her game-high 33 points in the final 5 minutes of the first half, cutting a 20-point deficit to 48-37 at halftime.

Concordia carried that momentum into the second half, cutting the deficit to one point. Ihnen responded with her own timely 3s, though, while Reiner and Pitsch continued to try to push the pace and get to the basket every time Concordia threatened to take the lead. DWU also held a 39-22 advantage on the glass, with Alexandria native Jada Campbell and Reiner grabbing nine and eight rebounds, respectively.

Even as Cockerill made it a one-possession game in the final seconds, DWU didn’t crack. It made 8 of 10 free throws in the final 1:11 to hold off Concordia’s final push. Eight of those free throws were taken by underclassmen.

“I think that shows any of us can come out and play any day,” Pitsch said. “All those teams have to prepare for every single person on our roster. It says a lot we can come out under pressure and hit those big shots.”

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DWU plays Midland (Neb.) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Fremont, Nebraska.

Dakota Wesleyan University 85, Concordia 80

Concordia (10-6, 9-4 GPAC): Bailey Conrad 3-6 1-2 9, Taysha Rushton 2-12 1-2 6, Taylor Cockerill 12-19 5-6 33, Mackenzie Koepke 4-10 1-1 11, Rylee Pauli 3-5 1-2 7, Averie Lambrecht 2-2 1-2 5, Kayla Luebbe 0-2 0-0 0, Mackenzie Toomey 1-1 0-0 2, Rebecca Higgins 0-4 1-2 1, Taylor Farrell 2-5 0-0 6, Sadie Powell 0-1 0-0 0, Chaise Pfanstiel 0-2 0-0 0. Team totals: 29-69 11-17 80.

Dakota Wesleyan (7-5, 5-5 GPAC): Kaylee Kirk 5-13 3-4 13, Rynn Osthus 1-2 3-4 5, Haidyn Pitsch 9-14 3-4 25, Matti Reiner 7-14 3-4 17, Jada Campbell 3-7 1-1 7, Aspen Hansen 0-0 0-0 0, Haylee Mork 1-1 0-0 2, Isabel Ihnen 5-6 0-0 14, Sydnaya Dunn 0-1 0-0 0, Natalie Gottlob 0-1 2-4 2. Team totals: 31-59 15-21 85.

C 18 37 61 80

DWU 27 48 65 85

3-pointers: C 11-30 (Cockerill 4-7, Koepke 2-4, Conrad 2-3, Farrell 2-4, Rushton 1-6, Higgins 0-3, Pfanstiel 0-2, Powell 0-1); DWU 8-16 (Pitsch 4-7, Ihnen 4-5, Reiner 0-3, Kirk 0-1). Rebounds: C 22 (Pauli 6, Rushton 5); DWU 39 (Campbell 9, Reiner 8, Kirk 7, Osthus 5). Assists: C 13 (Koepke 4); DWU 15 (Pitsch 5). Blocked shots: C4 (Koepke 4); DWU 3 (Campbell 2). Steals: C 13 (Lambrecht 3, Koepke 3); DWU 5 (Kirk 2). Turnovers: C 9; DWU 16. Total fouls: C 18; DWU 15.

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