No volleyball team across all three divisions of the NCAA has ever accomplished what Concordia University, St. Paul did on Dec. 14. The Golden Bears defeated BYU-Hawaii in three quick sets (25-15, 25-14, 25-20) to win their seventh-consecutive Division II national championship.
The Concordia team boasts a solid roster of players from the Midwest. Almost all are Minnesota residents, with the exception of senior outside Erienne Lauersdorf and redshirt-freshman setter Kasey Williams who both hail from neighbor state Wisconsin. The team went 29-3 in the regular season before storming through the NCAA tournament, dropping only two sets on the road to the championship match in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The Golden Bears and the Seasiders knew each other well, having met in the 2012 semifinals where Concordia-St. Paul ended BYU-Hawaii’s season with a 3-1 win, and a year later, BYU-Hawaii still couldn’t match the firepower of Concordia. Riley Hanson, a 5'11" freshmen for the Bears, stepped into the position left open by 2012 senior outside and team kill-leader Ellie Duffy, hitting .636 and collecting 15 kills in the championship match. Sophomore outside Emily McDonough added 12 kills and First Team All-American senior opposite Kayla Koenecke contributed eight, hitting .438, to end her career with a .392 hitting percentage, good for the career record at Concordia.
However, in the postgame press conference head coach Brady Starkey credited his team’s defense for the win. “I thought we did a good job coming out from point one, defensively picking balls up right away,” he said. “Our libero, and pretty much our whole back court, did a great job defending the court, getting us in system so we could actually score points off of digs.”
Taylor Dordan, the Golden Bears’ sophomore libero, led the defensive effort with 20 digs, followed by Koenecke with 13, and senior setter Amanda Konetchy with 10.
Starkey has taken his team at least as far as the round of 16 in each of his 11 years at the helm of the program. With the championship match win, the Golden Bears boast a 42-match NCAA tournament win streak and Starkey’s career record improved to 339-30.
This season, national runner-up BYU-Hawaii benefited from the performance of three Taiwanese players who helped propel the team to a 29-2 season and the championship match. Junior outside hitter Shih Ting Chen collected the most kills of any player in the tournament with 67, nine of which came in the championship match; junior setter Ying Chun Chen ended the season with 1,235 assists, 11.54 per set, good for 11th in the country; and junior middle blocker Erh Fang Hsu collected 55 blocks over the season’s 31 matches.
Despite boasting four national championship titles and a career record in her time at Concordia, it was team chemistry and relationships that Koenecke reminisced about following her final collegiate match.
“It sounds cliché, but you really do take away the relationships that you establish more than the wins,” she said. “That’s something that I’ve really come to appreciate as a senior. You kind of take for granted what you have when you’re younger, but now it’s like what’s next? It was just so much fun being out this weekend and taking every point as an opportunity to spend time with this team.”
This spring, Concordia-St. Paul will graduate five seniors, but no doubt Starkey has another class of talented freshmen lined up to fill in the holes left behind, and in 2014 they will once again be in contention for a national championship. They only need 11 more titles to take down the record for consecutive national championships in a women’s collegiate sport, which the Kenyon College swimming and diving team currently holds. Perhaps in 2024 we’ll be celebrating another record-breaking performance by this remarkable program.
Originally published in February 2014