While students from Northwestern packed up to go home or on SSPs over spring break, many teams across the nation packed up to go to Sioux City. Sioux City is, and has been for 19 years, the home of the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship tournament. Coming to the national tournament is a fairly routine trip for some colleges each year; however, this was the first year any conference has had six teams in the national tournament — and there were two conferences with six teams.
Corey Westra, the Great Plains Athletic Conference commissioner, explained how rare this is and how it happened.
“It’s a first; it has not happened,” Westra said. “The most that any one conference has gotten prior to this year is five. We’ve lost a couple NAIA Division II conferences this year. The Midlands Collegiate Conference disbanded and the Midwest Collegiate Conference [also disbanded]. So that’s a couple bids that were back on the table.”
The GPAC was one of the conferences that had six teams in the tournament, along with the Chicagoland Collegiate Conference. Unfortunately, NW did not make the bid this year, but the GPAC teams present were No. 1 Morningside, No. 3 Mount Marty, No. 4 Briar Cliff, No. 6 Hastings, No. 3 Dakota Wesleyan and No. 4 Concordia, in their respective brackets.
“Both these leagues had very deep teams,” Westra said. “Our league, for example two through six, was very balanced. If you look at the No. 2 seed in our conference, [it] was Mount Marty and the 6th seed was Hastings. You could have flipped those on any given night: Hastings beat Mount Marty earlier in the year.
“Our conference played 22 games this year — we’ve never played that many games. We had four teams in our conference that didn’t have any losses outside of the league. The league got a lot of respect; we had the Final Four last year.”
Morningside, Hastings, Concordia and Briar Cliff were the Final Four teams in last year’s tournament. Morningside played Concordia for the NAIA Championship and won 59-57. With the exception of three years in the past 15, Hastings, Morningside or NW has won the national title. NW won back-to-back-to-back in 2011, 2012 and 2013. This year, No. 3 Marion knocked out Morningside in the quarterfinals, 76-69. Marian went on to beat No. 1 Southern Oregon 59-48 to win their first national title.
Sioux City also hosts the NAIA Volleyball National Championship in the fall. These tournaments tend to be economic boosters for the Siouxland area. Along with all the teams come their fans. Local businesses sponsor the teams that come to the tournament, so that not only spreads the businesses’ names around, but it also builds relationships with those teams and athletes. All of the GPAC teams except for Concordia made it past the first round.
“I think if you look at the makeup of a GPAC team, it’s really designed for a tournament like this,” Westra said. “We’re deep; very rarely in the GPAC do you see a one- or a two-horse team. You really got to have a deep team — good in the posts, good in the guards, very balanced — because you’re not going to get out of our conference if you don’t have that. And obviously getting out of our conference bodes well when you get here, so no doubt that our conference prepares these teams very well.”