SIOUX CITY | It was a different kind of bracket reveal for two of the winningest programs in women’s NAIA basketball.
No. 11 Morningside and No. 24 Northwestern have combined for nine national titles between them – the Red Raiders have five – and the two Great Plains Athletic Conference squads have won a total of 80 tournament games. However, the Mustangs knew they were not going to be in their usual spot on a one line after an uncharacteristic first-round exit from the GPAC tourney while Northwestern was just hoping to get in.
Morningside is a three seed in the Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship and will face Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference Tournament runner-up Siena Heights (Mich.) in its first game Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Tyson Events Center. No. 22 Siena Heights has a 24-9 record and is making its fourth trip to the tournament after missing last season.
“We took a couple days off because (the GPAC tournament) was very disappointing, we were up by 23 points and blew the lead,” Morningside Coach Jamie Sale said. “We calmed ourselves down and cleared our head and they really came back and practiced well since then.”
Northwestern Coach Chris Yaw felt his team’s big win over No. 19 Hastings in the GPAC tourney helped make its case.
“I would say that I was optimistic,” he said. “I kind of thought where the pollsters had us in recent weeks and going on the road and getting a win against Hastings would all be beneficial to us. I certainly wasn’t living the no doubt we are in. I wasn’t feeling that but I was optimistic.”
The Mustangs will be challenged as they try to make a run for another national title. A second-round matchup with College of the Ozarks, which is making its NAIA-record 23rd trip to the tournament and a record 16th straight, likely awaits Morningside.
“No matter who you play it is going to be tough and Ozarks is there and St. Xavier is a little down the line, but the way we played this year we can’t afford to do anything but worry about the Siena Heights game ahead of us,” Sale said.
The Mustangs are making their 15th straight appearance in the national tournament having won titles in 2004, ’05, ’09 and ’15.
Morningside (23-8) is led by a pair of All-GPAC first-team players in Lexi Ackerman and Madison Braun. Braun led the team in scoring in the regular season at 15.9 points while hitting a team best 90 3-pointers. Ackerman scored at a 15.1 clip, and led the team with 102 assists and added 5.5 rebounds. Lauren Lehmkuhl was the other Mustang to score in double figures at 13.8 points and led the team in rebounding at 7.6.
Northwestern (19-11) is led by All-GPAC first-teamer Kassidy De Jong, who averaged 18.2 points and 7.6 rebounds. De Jong became the 31st player in Red Raider history to reach 1,000 career points. Guard Renee Maneman led the nation in assists (226) and Anna Kiel gives the Red Raiders an inside presence averaging 13.1 points.
“This has been a team that has a really special culture and chemistry,” Yaw said. “Even with additions in the middle of the year, adversity with some injuries and playing roles shifting because of those injuries, it has just made them stronger.”
Northwestern's first-round opponent, No. 12 Southern Oregon (27-4), is making its 10th national tournament appearance as a conference tournament runner-up. They will play at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday.
Last season the GPAC had six teams in the field while this year there are five with Dakota Wesleyan, Hastings and Concordia (Neb.) also qualifying.