KEARNEY, Neb. — For the fifth consecutive year and seventh time in the last nine years, Concordia-St. Paul has captured an NCAA regional championship. Saturday, the Golden Bears (31-2) defeated fifth-seeded Southwest Minnesota State (25-7) in consecutive sets (25-17, 26-24, 25-13) in the Central Region Championship hosted by Nebraska-Kearney. Concordia has now won 27 consecutive NCAA tournament matches dating back to their first of four NCAA Championships in 2007. They’ll continue their quest for a fifth consecutive national title on Thursday, December 1st in the NCAA National Quarterfinals against the Central Missouri.
Cassie Haag finished with 14 kills on the night, most by any Golden Bear. Kayla Koencke was all over the floor with 10 kills, 11 digs and five blocks, three of them of the solo variety. She also hit a massive .526 in the match. Amanda Konetchy had 43 assists on the night setting up the offense. Ashley Murtha had a team high 16 digs to lead the defense and also racked up seven kills. Megan Carlson had eight kills and 13 digs.
The Golden Bears jumped out in the opening set to a big 10-4 lead. The Mustangs rallied slightly over the next few points to pull within four at 15-11. After the timeout Concordia got back to back points on kills from Carlson and Koenecke. With the score at 19-15 in favor of Concordia-St. Paul, the Golden Bears went on a run scoring six consecutive thanks to very tough defense and holding the Mustangs hitters in check. Concordia won the set 25-19 holding SMSU to just five kills and gathering 24 digs, eight by All-Tournament team member Ashley Murtha. Solo blocks from Murtha and Habeck at the end of the set keyed the run as well.
The Mustangs overcame a 5-3 deficit early in the second set to take an 8-6 lead and force a Concordia-St. Paul timeout. SMSU stayed hot increasing their lead to 10-6 after the timeout. Concordia clawed their way back and tied the set at 15 thanks to a solo block from Carlson. Concordia-St. Paul got their second lead of the match at 19-18 when Haag and Koenecke teamed up for a block forcing a SMSU timeout. The Mustangs tied it back up at 19 but a kill from Koenecke followed by a solo block from her gave Concordia-St. Paul a 21-19 lead late in the set. After a SMSU timeout Koenecke was big again for her second consecutive solo block. Southwest Minnesota State fought till the end tying the set up at 24 forcing a Concordia-St. Paul timeout. Back to Back kills from Katie Habeck and Carlson gave Concordia-St. Paul the set at 26-24.
It was the Cassie Haag show in the third set as the junior had six kills in the frame. With Concordia-St. Paul up 8-6 they went on a run that finished off the Mustangs scoring eight consecutive to go up 16-6, Haag had three kills during that span. The Mustangs never got closer than seven as the Golden Bears pulled away late taking the set 25-13.
Concordia out hit SMSU .264-.062 in the match as the Golden Bears defense forced 25 attack errors. After the match setter Amanda Konetchy was asked about her offense, “we trust in ourselves and we trust our hitters.”