SIOUX CITY – If the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship Fab Four looks familiar, it’s because it is.
Three of the four teams that reached last season’s semifinals will be back at the Tyson Events Center on Monday night, battling to see who will play for the national title on Tuesday.
That includes defending national champion Dakota Wesleyan, which will take on Southeastern (Fla.) in the second semifinal at 8:05 p.m. Great Plains Athletic Conference rivals Concordia and Northwestern hook up at 6:05.
Each of the four semifinalists were No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets. Top-ranked Concordia, No. 4 Northwestern and No. 3 Dakota Wesleyan are here for the second straight season. No. 2 Southeastern is playing in its first semifinal.
Three of the four recorded convincing quarterfinal victories, while Northwestern staged a furious rally and won on a last-second shot.
Dakota Wesleyan (31-5) eliminated Southeastern (30-2) in a quarterfinal last season, while the Concordia (33-3) vs. Northwestern (29-4) game is a rematch of a semifinal from a year ago.
“They are really, really good, that’s what I know right now,” Dakota Wesleyan Coach Jason Christensen said of the Southeastern Fire. “They are upset because we knocked them off in the Elite Eight last year when I thought they were the best team in this tournament.
“Now I’m in the boat where I get to play them in the semifinals and I’m sure this si going to be a revenge game. We are going to have to keep our composure and see what happens.”
Veterans Kynedi Cheeseman, Sarah Carr and Rylie Osthuis lead the way for DWU. Cheeseman has averaged 20 points per game in the national tournament, Osthuis 17.7 and Carr 13.0.
“I remember they have a lot of size,” senior point guard Osthuis said. “We have to go out there and play fearless, be able to take care of the ball and have fun with it.”
“We are a different team than we were last year,” Christensen said. “I had two 6-foot-1 players on the team last year and they are not here so we are a little bit smaller. We have to play good defense and it’s going to have to be team defense and rebounding defense, because they have a pretty big kid inside and they can shoot it, too.”
Southeastern had fallen in the quarterfinals each of the last two seasons but broke through on the 200th career coaching victory for Tim Hays. The Fire has averaged 82 points in three national tournament games.
In his two previous trips here, Hays brought unbeaten teams with high expectations, only to have their seasons end in the Elite Eight.
“I’m seasoned now, being here three times and that means a lot when you’re preparing for a tournament,” Hays said. “This is one of the oldest teams I’ve had. They have a lot of experience under their belt so they don’t get rattled I tough scenarios on a big stage. That’s probably the biggest separator for this team right now.
“The last two years we expected (to make the semifinals) but we had never done it. We were rookies in getting to this level where as other programs have been here and done it. For us it was just important to break the ice.”
Four of the five Southeastern starters are transfers from NCAA Division I schools. Makenzie Cann (14.6 ppg.) and Jaycee Coe (14.2) played at the University of Kentucky. Marlena Schmidt, a towering 6-foot-6 post who has recorded double-doubles in two national tournament games, came from West Virginia and Halee Printz from Toledo.
Elsa Paulssen-Glantz, the team’s leading scorer with a 16.9 average, hails from Lulea, Sweden, and transferred from Salt Lake Community College.
Introductions won’t be necessary for the other two semifinal combatants. There have been plenty of historic matchups between Northwestern and Concordia over the years, not only in the GPAC but also in the national tournament.
Northwestern is a five-time national champion while Concordia has reached the semifinals for the fifth time. The teams split their two previous meetings with the home team winning both times.
Concordia rolled to a 73-53 win over Indiana Tech in its quarterfinal, while Northwestern had to rally from a 17-point deficit to beat College of the Ozarks, 71-70, on a shot at the buzzer by Darbi Gustafson.
Drew Olson, now in his 13th season as head coach, has guided Concordia to three consecutive Fab Fours.
“It feels pretty good. I think it sets the standard for our program since it’s four out of five years,” Olson said. “ We just kind of expect it. It’s where the bar has been set and our kids continue to live up to it. Our kids come to this program wanting to be in that pressure situation and our kids handle it really well. Just real excited and happy for them.”
The Bulldogs feature GPAC Player of the Year Philly Lammers, a 5-11 junior averaging 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Lammers, though, has fouled out of two national tournament games and Concordia has had a different leading scorer in all three games.
Sophomore Taylor Cockerill fired in 19 fourth-quarter points in a come-from-behind second-round win over Cardinal Stritch. Grace Barry and freshman Mackenzie Koepke were the stars in the quarterfinal.
“Every team is unique. Every team each season, it’s a different dynamic. I love all of the teams that we’ve had and that I’ve been blessed to be able to coach,” Olson said. “ This team is no different. They are awesome, they are special, they love each other. We are a little bit different in the fact that we have more kids that can attack and play one on one but I do think that every team has been really special.
“The GPAC is great and know that Northwestern is an awesome team. We will be really excited for it.”
Seniors Kassidy De Jong, Gustafson and Haley Birks are winding down magnificent careers for Northwestern. De Jong is a three-time All-American with over 2,200 career points while Gustafson has scored 1,500 and Birks over 1,300 points. De Jong has averaged 21.3 points during the national tournament.
Concordia defeated Northwestern 84-77 in a semifinal here last season. Chris Yaw coached the Red Raiders to the 2012 national championship. Earl Woudstra had four national championship squads.
“It’s taking one day and one game at a time,” Yaw said. “You take what comes next and we’re fortunate enough to be one of the four teams that gets to keep playing.
“Concordia is a talented team, we know that, we’ve played them a bunch. We’ll look forward to the opportunity to compete. It’s going to be a game of ebbs and flows so you have to persist and play on. Play with momentum when you have it, make little plays here and there to grab it back.”