In the days leading up to the tournament 32 teams punched their ticket to Sioux City, Iowa after grueling seasons. The first round of the NAIA Div II National Tournament is over and this morning only 16 remain for the second round beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Those 16 teams fought their way through a first round that offered no real surprises, with one exception as Concordia (Neb.) fell to Cardinal Stritch on Thursday morning with a final score of 66-60, the only true upset of the day. Saint Xavier defeated Saint Thomas, and College of Idaho came out on top of Oklahoma Wesleyan, in the two five-versus-four-seed battles.
The second round will provide some marquee match-ups, one of which will include defending three-peat national champions Northwestern (IA.) versus Concordia (Mich.) at 10:15 a.m. Northwestern won their first round game against Mayville State with little to no issues as they ran away with a final score of 92-66. The biggest problem for the Red Raiders stems from the injury of star player, Kendra De Jong, who suffered an ankle sprain late in the Raiders’ first round game.
“Kendra is a special player. She is an important part of our team but she would be the first to tell you how much she relies on her teammates and vice versa. She is a tremendous leader in that she sets the bar of intensity in our practices as well as in games” said head coach Chris Yaw.
Three national titles is certainly a feat but defending those titles is something completely different.
“Any championships or titles that are won do not need defending, they have been accomplished and cannot be taken away…so there is no need to “defend” them. Rather, my feeling is that we have a team made up of different individuals than a year ago and they are enjoying the opportunity to write their own story and enjoy their own journey” Yaw said.
Time will tell if the Red Raiders can accomplish a fourth title, or if one of the other 15 teams who made it to the second round can set themselves down the path to the championship. Yet one thing is clear, there is a lot of basketball to play yet and the championship game on Tuesday seems like an eternity away.