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GPAC Top 10 Moments for 2016!
GPAC - Thu, Dec. 22, 2016

Back by popular demand is the GPAC Top 10 List to round out 2016. The year has been an amazing one for the Great Plains Athletic Conference, so good that there will be two honorees per day.  There will be one individual honoree and one team/conference honoree.  This list was compiled by the GPAC league office, with feedback from the Sports Information Directors of the conference. 

Enjoy the GPAC Top 10 for 2016!

Individual Moment #1 (December 31, 2016) -

1. Lauren Fitts Closes Career at DWU as GPAC Women's Golf Four Time Player-of-the-Year

"She's been good for a long time," Dakota Wesleyan Coach Chris Gomez said of Lauren Fitts. "It's going to be quite some time before we find someone like her. She's going to be one of the best DWU has ever seen."

It's safe to say Lauren Fitts doesn't like to lose.

And during her time at Dakota Wesleyan University, she didn't lose very often.

The highly decorated women's golfer, who graduated this past spring, is our #1 individual winner on the GPAC Top 10 for 2016. 

Why? Because Fitts is among the GPAC elite.  She became just the second student-athlete in league history to be a four-time GPAC Player-of-the-Year this past spring as DWU women's golf won their eighth GPAC title in a row.

Four in a row.  Rare, it's happened just twice in the 16 plus years of the GPAC.  The other?  A Tiger as well, Dani Bellet.

"I'm very competitive," Fitts admitted. "It's a good thing and a bad thing sometimes."

Fitts won the GPAC individual title in her final year by 15 strokes. 

"She's been good for a long time," Gomez said of Fitts. "It's going to be quite some time before we find someone like her. She's going to be one of the best DWU has ever seen."

Gomez said Fitts' competitiveness is a "rare quality" in his time around women's golf and Fitts laughed about how competitive she can become.

"Growing up, my sister is really competitive and we've battled it out on the golf course," said Fitts, whose sister Morgan competed for South Dakota State University from 2009 to 2013. "It hasn't been until recently that I can keep up with her. That's always driven me."

The competitive drive helped Fitts finish her junior season with a 15th place finish at the NAIA national tournament and earned NAIA all-tournament team honors.

The Tigers have won the GPAC team title every year except one (2008) since 2003.

Looking back at all of her success at DWU, Fitts said the team success stands out the most.

"I love that it's a team sport but it's an individual sport at the same time," Fitts said. "The conference championships and trips to nationals are the best."

Fitts looked back at all of her memories as a Tiger. From success on the golf course to earning her nursing degree, Fitts said DWU was the perfect fit for her.

"I don't think I could have made a better decision," Fitts said. "It felt like home the second I was on campus. It's been the best decision I've ever made."

Fitts will leave her mark on DWU's record book.  She is listed multiple times.  Her name and Dani Bellet, the two student-athletes that share a special bond as not only as Tigers but as GPAC elite who have done something no one else has ever done.  Four time GPAC Players-of-the-Year.

Individual Moment #2 (December 30, 2016) -

2. Concordia's King and Doane's Wolken Named USTFXC Coaches Association NAIA Outdoor Field Athletes of the Year

Kim Wood, Concordia:

"Simply put, Liz is the best competitor I have ever seen," said Concordia throws coach Ed McLaughlin

One of Concordia's most decorated female athletes in school history, Liz King won an individual and team national title in 2016.  She also earned the distinction of U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association NAIA National Women's Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year.  The Lincoln Journal Star selected her as co-State College Female Athlete of the Year. She shared the honor with Doane's Marissa DeWispelare.

"I will never forget the family at Concordia — my teammates, my coaches and the school," King told the Lincoln Journal Star. "We were like a family. Sometimes arguing. Sometimes cheering. And all of the time there for each other."

King capped off her impressive career as a Bulldog by winning her second career national title, taking first in the hammer.

Her 18 points at the 2016 outdoor national championships were the most among her national championship winning teammates. The native of Billings, Mont., won four GPAC titles in the javelin and two in the hammer during her four-year run. She also won a national title in the javelin in 2014. Also named NAIA Midwest Region Women's Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year, King owns the school record in the javelin. She is also the GPAC outdoor meet record holder in the hammer and javelin.

"Simply put, Liz is the best competitor I have ever seen," said throws coach Ed McLaughlin. "She is the friendliest person to be around, but when the time came to compete, she could flip a switch like no one I've ever seen. She didn't always win, but she was always at her best. She worked on her craft every day she was here. Her personality is what stood out the most. She was always willing to help others, and work with new kids on technical issues. She was always willing to give her free time to help out teammates outside of practice. She is the leader of this team that won a national title. She brought that group together to achieve a goal that was more of a dream to the rest of us."

Kale Wolken, Doane:

"Kale is a humble kid," said Doane Track and Field Coach Ed Fye, "...I told him it was OK to break the record."

The possibilities for Kale Wolken are nearly limitless.  "Heck, he won the conference decathlon and didn't even run the 1,500 - scored no points - and still won the decathlon by a lot," Ed Fye, Doane College track and field coach told the Lincoln Journal Star. "At the NAIA national meet, he won pretty easily, and we're thinking U.S. team trials and that kind of thing was in his future."

Wolken would go to Eugene, Oregon, this summer and participate in the 2016 U.S. Team Olympic Trials for Track and Field. 

He was named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association NAIA National Men's Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year.  The Lincoln Journal Star selected him as the State College Male Athlete of the Year. Wolken was the GPAC Indoor and Outdoor Athlete-of-the-Year for 2016.

The last athlete with a better performance with Nebraska connections was former Husker Bjorn Barrefors, of Sweden, the 2012 Big Ten champion. Even Wolken's former teammate Rob Keeney, a 2013 national champion and linebacker for Doane, saw his record erased by nearly 200 points.

"Kale is a humble kid," said Fye. "He was about to set the record in the Doane Relays, and told me he didn't want to break Keeney's record because Rob had done so much for him. I told him it was OK to break the record."

Wolken had two heptathlon (seven events) national titles, too, in his standout career.

Track and basketball were Wolken's sports after he quit football when he broke his arm in eighth grade. He also was pretty small at 5-foot-8 and 125 pounds at the time.

Seven years later, at 6-3 and 190 pounds, he had notched a personal best of 7,416 points in winning his first NAIA national decathlon title last spring (2015 as a junior). This past May he posted 7,356 points while winning the decathlon javelin, 400-meter dash and long jump. He was second in the discus, pole vault, shot put, 100 and high jump, and won the crown by almost 800 points.

"When we ask him to do something he does it," Fye said.

"I had the best coaches, the best teammates with Rob Keeney and Brad Higgins, and Jake Krueger, they brought me up to speed in the decathlon," said Wolken

Fye, who first saw Wolken at a basketball game, said he eventually watched Wolken long jump in high school. "He didn't have a mark to start and I put one down for him. He jumped 22 feet. I offered him a scholarship on the spot."


Individual Moment #3 (December 29, 2016) -

3. Former Midland and NAIA Hall of Fame Coach Jim McMahon Passes Away

"I have been privileged to coach in the NAIA… where ordinary athletes get an extraordinary opportunities"
– Jim McMahon, Midland University, from his induction speech into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 2011.

Long-time Midland University track/cross country coach and NAIA Hall of Famer, Jim McMahon died on Tuesday, December 13. A noted educator and legendary coach, McMahon served the Warriors for nearly 40 years.

"Coach McMahon spent a lifetime preparing young leaders to excel in competition and in life," said Midland University Director of Athletics Dave Gillespie. "Jim's resolute commitment to cultivating excellence in student-athletes has shaped generations of Warriors, and his legacy will endure far beyond the athletes of today. He will be missed, but never forgotten."   

The 2011 NAIA Track & Field Hall of Famer was inducted into the Midland University Hall of Fame in 1999, 20 years after beginning his coaching tenure with the Warriors in 1979.

Under McMahon's guidance the women's indoor team won the 1989 NAIA National Championship – Midland's only national title to date. He was named the NAIA Women's Indoor Coach of the Year and Omaha World-Herald Coach of the Year at the conclusion of that season.

He was named the NAIA District XI Cross Country Coach of the Year six times in his career and the District XI Track & Field Coach of the Year five times.

McMahon formally retired from his post as Midland head coach in 2012, but continued to serve as a volunteer assistant throughout the 2016 cross country season.

As a head coach, McMahon helped groom 24 individual NAIA National Champions and won a combined 50 conference titles between his cross country and track teams. Nineteen of his former student-athletes, and one team, are Midland Hall-of-Fame inductees. Four of those athletes are also his peers in the NAIA Hall of Fame.

McMahon's reach on the Midland campus also extended to the classroom where he began as a physical education instructor in 1978.  He would go on to become an Assistant Professor teaching subjects that included first aid safety and theory of track & field. Furthermore, Jim's wife, Karen, also impacted athletics, serving as the department's administrative assistant for 26 years. 

Former Midland Athletic Director Keith Kramme, now student success advisor and director of athletic student achievement, said McMahon wanted students to succeed not just on the track or cross country course.

"He had that passion in both coaching and the classroom," he said. "He was as passionate about teaching as he was coaching his athletes. That passion and intensity – and I say that only in the positive sense – was used to make student-athletes better and to help students in the classroom learn life lessons that they could use down the road."

Watch Jim McMahon's NAIA Hall of Fame Speech from 2011 here:

Individual Moment #4 (December 28, 2016) -

4. Doane's Marissa DeWispelare Wins NAIA A.O. Duer Award

Now in her senior year at Doane University, Marissa DeWispelare is one of the most decorated Tiger and GPAC student-athletes of all-time. In 2016 alone she crushed the Doane steeplechase record at NAIA Nationals in Gulf Shores and this fall was an NAIA All-American in cross country after a 15th place finish at NAIA Nationals (after winning the GPAC meet two weeks earlier).

In September, on NAIA National Awards Day, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced that Marissa DeWispelare of Doane University was the 2016 recipient of the A.O. Duer Award.

DeWispelare is a member of the Doane Cross Country and Indoor and Outdoor track teams.

The Duer award recognizes academics, character and citizenship by junior student-athletes in any sport. Named in honor of the NAIA's former executive secretary for his 26 years of service to the Association, the award, which includes a $1,000 scholarship to each winner, has been presented since 1967 to one male and one female junior student-athlete.

To go along with her 2016 accomplishments, in 2015 she also was the GPAC Champion in steeplechase and 5000 meters. In addition, she was the GPAC Cross Country individual medalist in 2015. She holds the Doane school records in the steeplechase, mile run and distance medley relay.

The David City, Nebraska, native finished her junior year with a 3.91 GPA while studying mathematics, with a secondary education emphasis, and was named a Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track as well as being on the Dean's List from 2013-2016.

DeWispelare was one of six current or former athletes and coaches of the GPAC recognized during the 2016 NAIA Awards Day.

Individual Moment #5 (December 27, 2016) -

5.  Hild and Folkerts Sweep Prestigious NAIA Emil S. Liston Awards

The Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) was well represented on NAIA National Awards Day in September as six current or former student-athletes and coaches were recognized by the National Office.

Of the those awards, two GPAC basketball players swept the prestigious Emil S. Liston Awards.  Holly Hild from Hastings and Chandler Folkers from Concordia were selected from among a very strong of field of candidates from across the NAIA.

Here are their releases from September:

Holly Hild – Hastings College Women's Basketball:

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has announced that Holly Hild of Hastings College is the 2016 recipient of the Emil S. Liston Award. Hild is a member of the Hastings women's basketball team.

The Liston Award is named in honor for the NAIA's first executive secretary and the prime mover behind the NAIA Men's Basketball National Tournament. The award has been presented annually since 1950 to one junior men's and one junior women's basketball student-athlete who has shown high athletic and scholastic achievement and includes a $1,000 scholarship.

Hild, from Omaha, Nebraska, was named Honorable Mention All-GPAC in 2015-16. She was the second leading scoring for the Broncos on the year, averaging 10.7 points per game and was one of the team's top defenders.

Her career goal is to one day become a dentist and while at Hastings she has amassed a GPA of 3.999 as a chemistry and pre-dentistry major. In addition, she has served the community in various ways: Brush Up NE in 2014, Salvation Army Bell Ringer 2013-2015 and helping with special needs basketball camps in 2015 and 2016.

Chandler Folkerts – Concordia University Men's Basketball:

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has announced that Chandler Folkerts of Concordia University is the 2016 recipient of the Emil S. Liston Award. Folkerts is a member of the Concordia men's basketball team.

The Liston Award is named in honor for the NAIA's first executive secretary and the prime mover behind the NAIA Men's Basketball National Tournament. The award has been presented annually since 1950 to one junior men's and one junior women's basketball student-athlete who has shown high athletic and scholastic achievement and includes a $1,000 scholarship.

Folkerts, from Milford, Nebraska, was named NAIA Honorable Mention All-America in 2015-16. In addition he was named first-team All-GPAC twice. He averaged 19.6 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game and shot an impressive 66.6 percent from the field (second in the NAIA). He ranks 10th on the Concordia career scoring list, ninth in rebounds and seventh in blocked shots.

Academically he holds a GPA of 3.99 while pursuing a major in physics and a minor in mathematics. He is a two-time CoSID Academic All-America selection, a 2015-16 Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete and a three time Omaha World-Herald NAIA All-Nebraska team choice.

Hild and Folkerts are the 9th and 10th student-athletes to win this award from the GPAC since 2000.

Complete List HERE

Individual Moment #6 (December 26, 2016) -

6. GPAC Claims two Individual National Titles at the NAIA Wrestling Championships

It had been three years (2013) since the GPAC had an individual weight class champion at the NAIA National Wrestling Championships.

In 2016 the league sent two wrestlers back to the top of the awards stand to claim NAIA gold in Topeka, Kansas.The two titles were historical for participating schools Doane and Concordia.

Doane's Cody Linton and Concordia's Andrew Schulte each won their respective weight classes and became the first individual wrestling National Champions from their school.Schulte was the champion at 141 pounds, while Linton won the 197 pound weight class.

Linton became Doane's first wrestler to advance to a championship match, and win, and he didn't disappoint the Tiger faithful along with the many other fans that were pro-Doane, chanting "Cody" throughout the match on championship night.

Schulte summed up the feeling well saying post-match in an interview, "It means everything to me, it's been my life sacrifices. It all paid off. If I could relive the moment I would. I could just live in that moment forever."

Doane placed sixth at NAIA Nationals with 57.5 points, while Concordia placed eighth with 54.5 points.

Concordia won the GPAC regular season title and the GPAC Tournament/North Region title earlier in the season.The Bulldogs won the GPAC regular season with a dual record of 7-0.

The dual titles by Linton and Schulte highlights the strength of this surging sport in the GPAC and in the NAIA.

Individual Moment #7 (December 25, 2016) -

7.  Morningside's Hongsermeier Wins Prestigious NAIA Walker Character Award

Morningside's Natasha Hongsermeier, a senior from Phillips, Neb., was named the recipient of the 2016 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award as part of NAIA National Awards Day in September.

The Walker Award is one of the most prestigious awards in the NAIA and was created in association with National Sports Foundation, a group of sports organizations that promote and recognize sportsmanship. Dr. Walker was a former president of the NAIA and president emeritus of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The award recognizes a current student-athlete with at least junior academic status who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, campus and community leadership embracing the five core character values of the NAIA Champions of Character initiative, athletic achievement, and future ambition.

Hongsermeier is a member of Morningside's women's tennis team. She was named a 2016 College Division At-Large First-Team Academic All-American by College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) and is majoring in biology, chemistry and music. Hongsermeier has a perfect 4.00 cumulative grade point average (GPA) and is a two-time Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete. Hongsermeier has been active in a number of community service projects and founded the "Musicians for Healing" program which coordinates the time and talent of local musicians with music therapy needs of the Siouxland healthcare facilities. Since the program's inception, over 350 hours of service has been donated by musicians. She also serves on the national board of Alpha Lambda Delta, a nonprofit freshman women's honor society.

Hongsermeier earned first-team All-Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) honors in singles and honorable mention All-GPAC recognition in doubles during the 2015-16 season. She had a 16-2 record in singles while playing the majority of the season in the sixth flight. She had a 12-7 record in doubles competition. Hongsermeier helped lead the Mustangs to a 13-3 dual record and to GPAC regular season and post-season tournament championships en route to a berth in the NAIA Women's Tennis National Championship tournament.

Hongsermeier is the third straight Morningside student-athlete chosen by the GPAC as its nominee for the annual Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award. Mustang football player Ethan Stofferan was the GPAC's nominee in 2015 and Garret Ehlers from the Mustangs' cross country and track & field teams was the conference's nominee in 2014.

Tom Maxon, head coach of Morningside's men's and women's soccer teams, was this year's GPAC nominee for the NAIA Coach of Character Award.

Individual Moment #8 (December 24, 2016) –

8. Three Double National Champions Highlight GPAC Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Seasons

The indoor and outdoor track and field seasons of 2016 were dominated by many outstanding individual performances and at the end of the year eleven national championships were won by GPAC student-athletes.

Headlining the group were double National Champions Zach Lurz from Concordia (indoor and outdoor shotput), Tameca Wallace from Doane (indoor and outdoor triple jump), and Kale Wolken from Doane (indoor and outdoor multi-events).

Doane University swept both the indoor and outdoor team titles in the GPAC for track and field and Concordia's women won the NAIA National Championship to cap off the year.

Many other individual honors came out of the 2016 track and field season and they will be highlighted later on the GPAC Top 10 list.

Individual NAIA National Champions from the GPAC for 2016:

Indoor:

Paige Hervert

Doane

Pentathlon

3,572 Points

2016

Kale Wolken

Doane

Heptathlon

5,396 Points

2016

Cody Boellstorff

Concordia

Weight Throw

69-09

2016

Kevin Murphy

Doane

Long Jump

24-02.50

2016

Tameca Wallace

Doane

Triple Jump

40-04

2016

Zach Lurz

Concordia

Shot Put

57-07.75

2016

 
Outdoor:
 

Marissa Dewispelare

Doane

Steeplechase

10:26.61

2016

Zach Lurz

Concordia

Shot Put

59-00.25

2016

Tameca Wallace

Doane

Triple Jump

39-11.25

2016

Kale Wolken

Doane

Decathlon

7,830 Points

2016

Liz King

Concordia

Hammer Throw

188-00.25

2016

 

Individual Moment #9 (December 23, 2016) –

9.  Nic Nelson Wins NAIA All That is Right in Sport Award, Honored at Musial Awards in St. Louis

Players and coaches often refer to each other as family, so much so that the metaphor can lose its impact. But in extending their basketball family to help a young man heal after a tragic loss, Nic Nelson and the Briar Cliff University Chargers made the metaphor poignant again.

Nic met Trevor Welp and his family when Trevor's sister and Nic's daughter became classmates and friends.  So, when Trevor's father, Steven, died in 2011, Nic sensed the hole that was left in Trevor's life. Steven had coached Trevor's basketball team, and the pair shared a love of the sport. As coach of the Briar Cliff University men's basketball team, Nic was in a position to fill Trevor's void.

"We invited him to be part of our team," Nic says.

Part manager, part teammate, Trevor came to practices and games. He offered drinks or towels to players on the bench. He sat in on team meetings and strategy sessions. He balanced those duties with playing basketball for his grade school basketball team. As a show of support, Nic and the Chargers surprised Trevor by attending one of his games.

"The look on Trevor's face when the Briar Cliff Chargers came into the gym was priceless," Trevor's mom, Cindy, told the Sioux City Journal. "There wasn't enough room for all of them. Some of them stood. Some sat on the bench with Trevor's team."

Surprised? Yes. Nervous? Hardly. Trevor responded by hitting the first shot of the game.

Like any team member, Trevor celebrated at the annual team banquet. After the season, Nic invited Trevor to Briar Cliff's summer basketball camp. The bond grew so strong that continuing the relationship beyond that first year seemed logical.

Since then, Trevor has returned to the team every year and has become more involved. He's made a few road trips. Last year, when Briar Cliff won its conference tournament, Trevor helped cut down the nets and accompanied the Chargers to Branson, Mo., for the NAIA national tournament.

"I'm not sure we intended it to be more than a one-year thing," Nic says, "but he's been part of the program longer than our current players."

Now a freshman, Trevor continues both in his role with Briar Cliff and as a player on his high school team. Nic even hopes that Trevor will serve as a camp counselor this coming summer.

"It's been personally fulfilling to stay involved in his life, watching him grow and mature. For someone with only daughters, it's been neat," Nic says. "For our guys, they know how this all started and they treat him like one of them. They love doing that. It's been good for them because they know it's important to Trevor."

And Trevor might be even more important to the Briar Cliff family.

Watch the Musial Awards here:


 

Individual Moment #10 (December 22, 2016):

10. Kregg Einspahr retires as Head Cross Country and Track & Field Coach at Concordia University -

Coach Kregg Einspahr stockpiled many accolades throughout his 24-year tenure as head coach of Concordia cross country and track and field. The 19-time GPAC coach of the year guided the track and field program to two outdoor national titles over the past two seasons (one men and one women). In 2016, both the Concordia men and women placed among the top five at the indoor and outdoor national championships. Einspahr has received four different national coach of the year awards for either cross country or track. In addition, he won a combined 16 conference titles and led teams to seven national runner-up placements in addition to the two national championships.  Above all we thank Coach Einspahr for his contributions to the GPAC over the years in helping elevate the conference to a high level of cross country and track & field!

   

****************************************************
 

Team/GPAC Moment #1 (December 31, 2016) -

1. Twice as Nice, Hastings Wins Two NAIA National Championships on Same Day

"This championship business you've been hearing about (all week) is real. It happened," said Patty Sitorius, Hastings Athletic Director. "Little old Hastings College secured not one, but two national championship titles last Saturday (December 3)."

Students, professors, coaches, fans and community members filled the Lynn Farrell Arena on Saturday, December 10, to honor a monumental accomplishment for Hastings College.

"This championship business you've been hearing about (all week) is real. It happened," said Patty Sitorius, the college's athletic director. "Little old Hastings College secured not one but two national championship titles last Saturday (December 3)."

This double championship accomplishment is our #1 team moment for 2016 for the GPAC.

On Dec. 3, the Hastings women's volleyball team defeated Dordt College in Sioux City, Iowa, to win the NAIA volleyball championship just hours after the Bronco men's soccer team overtook University of Rio Grande 1-0 in regulation to with its own national title in Florida.

"Let me be the first to say, it's a great day to be a Bronco," shouted Hastings College President Don Jackson as he kicked off Saturday's championship celebration.

The two teams came onto the floor wearing matching "National champions x2" T-shirts and carrying their respective national championship trophies.

Head volleyball coach Matt Buttermore was the first coach of the two teams to speak, thanking everyone for their support throughout the season and for attending Saturday's celebration.

"Thank you to everyone who makes Hastings College a great place to recruit to, to train at and a great place for student athletes," he said. "This wouldn't be possible otherwise without everybody. It's a great place and such a joy to bring student athletes to Hastings College. Thank you very much."

Senior libero Mikayla Bax of Lincoln teared up as she thanked her teammates, coaches and the community for the support.

"Coming from a big city and into a community like Hastings, it means more than anything to me to be able to represent you," she said.

Teammate Emily Filsinger of Clearwater told the story of the players making a bet with their coach at the beginning of the season that if they won a national title he would have to do the dance called the Juju.

"I'm not going to get him to do it but he thought about it and said, 'OK, sure.' I guess the motivation to win the national tournament after losing the first two sets wasn't the motivational speech he gave us or the motivational speech we gave each other. It was knowing Coach was going to do the Juju for us," she said.

Corey Westra, commissioner of the Great Plains Athletic Conference, also spoke Saturday referring to that 10-minute break between sets two and three of the title volleyball match.

"I don't know what went down in the locker room between set two and three," he told the crowd. "All Coach Buttermore said to me on ESPN was, 'Did you see the first two sets? Did we need a 10-minute break?' So apparently it was about dancing. Nobody knew that."

Aaron Champenoy said he appreciates how the players on the soccer team accepted him in his first year as head coach of the program.

"It's an unbelievable group of young men who not only accepted me as a coach but accepted me as a person and bought into what I had to bring to the program this year and kept the promise of giving me everything they had every day," he said. "It showed at the national tournament when their back was against the wall that they never gave up or doubted me."

Champenoy, who was named head coach in March, managed to help lead the program to its second national championship in school history. The first came in 2010.

"Nobody expected us to accomplish much this season but it didn't matter. We believed in ourselves and each other," said team captain Marc Tautz of Limburg, Germany. "In the end, we won every game and a national championship."

Junior forward Lucas Venegas of Grand Island, who scored the only goal in the championship match and was referred to by Champenoy as "one of the local hometown heroes here in the Tri-Cities," thanked everyone for their support throughout the season that ended with a record of 24-0-1.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a silly soccer rule that it has to be a tie," Westra told the crowd. "As far as I'm concerned, 25 and 0 sounds pretty cool. Congratulations, Bronco soccer. You are the national champs."

Congratulations to Hastings College volleyball and men's soccer, the top team sports moment of 2016 in the GPAC.

Team/GPAC Moment #2 (December 30, 2016) –

2.  Concordia Women Claim First NAIA National Outdoor Track and Field Title

For the second-straight year, Concordia University track and field has departed from Gulf Shores, Ala., with an oversized red banner. The Bulldogs were crowned national champions for the first time in the history of the women's program a year after the Concordia men captured the school's first-ever team national title at the very same venue.

Head coach Kregg Einspahr's Concordia women piled up 71 points and held off a late push from Indiana Tech in coming out on top at the three-day 2016 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. Meanwhile, the men, national leaders after days one and two, ended up with 52 points and a runner-up finish behind Indiana Tech. Zach Lurz headlined individual performances on Saturday by winning his third career shot put national title with a school record toss.

"We thought we had two good teams," Einspahr said. "We have a lot of juniors and seniors that have been here before and with that we thought we had a chance. This is just a dream come true to be able to win another national championship. You always hope to be in that position someday. What a wonderful feeling for the whole coaching staff and athletes who work so hard. They're so representative of what Concordia is about."

The Bulldog women held a 10-point lead heading into the final event, the 4x400 meter relay that included a quartet from Indiana Tech. When the Warriors fell short of a first-place relay finish needed for a championship tie, members of the Concordia team celebrated, arms around each other, by dancing in a circle. Einspahr joined them while high-fiving his athletes.

The national title was made possible by an unprecedented group of throwers, headed by Liz King, the national champion in the hammer throw and runner up in the javelin. King and the female throwers racked up 66 of the team's 71 points. Stephanie Coley and Kali Robb both turned in All-America performances in three different throwing events. They were two of four All-Americans on Saturday in the discus in an effort crucial to remaining atop the team standings (Tricia Svoboda was runner up).

"It's always hard to put into words," said throws coach Ed McLaughlin, named the NAIA Midwest Region outdoor men's and women's assistant coach of the year. "I can't really explain what happened. We came into it thinking it was a possibility. To actually pull it off is just amazing. The girls talked about this last year. They wanted this."

Senior Kim Wood also produced three critical points on the track with a sixth-place finish in the finals of the 800 meter race on Saturday. Wood clocked in at 2:12.38 for her seventh career All-America award. Wood let loose with a giant "wooooo!" afterwards in fitting ending for the 12-time GPAC champion. "It feels so good," Wood said. "I can't believe it really happened. It's really great to be part of a team that can do that. It's just incredible to be able to go out on it."

Lurz broke his own record in the outdoor shot put on his third throw of the day, registering a mark of 59' 5 ¼" – which outdistanced the runner up by nearly a foot-and-a-half. Now a junior, the native of Chadron, Neb., has 2015 indoor, 2016 indoor and 2016 outdoor shot put titles and 12 career All-America awards to his credit. He was a major reason why the Concordia men won the 2015 outdoor national title.

"I was really hungry to win it for outdoor," Lurz said of his shot put trophy. "The last couple years have been pretty bittersweet for me. I put together a good series with four throws around 17.50 (meters) or higher. It was one of the best series of my life."

Lurz delivered three of the Concordia track program's 23 total All-America performances on the weekend. Twenty of those came out of throwing events. Jose Rojas joined Lurz as an All-American in the shot put on Saturday while Kattie Cleveland, Coley, Robb and Tricia Svoboda were the latest throwing All-Americans courtesy of their efforts in the discus.

Concordia has become an especially dominant program for throwers.

"It was very exciting," Coley said of the women's discus performances on Saturday. "I wasn't sure if we could pull it off. Last year we were just so drained on this day. I knew it was going to be really challenging. We did exactly what we were supposed to do."

The Bulldog men have now placed inside the top five at four-straight national championship meets. The women have done the same at each of the last three national championships. This weekend's championship sent Einspahr out a winner. Now a three-time national coach of the year, Einspahr will shift to a full-time teaching role. Matt Beisel, a 1992 Concordia graduate, was tabbed as the successor on May 13.

Team/GPAC Moment #3 (December 29, 2016) –

3. Dordt Volleyball Plays for First NAIA National Title in Any Sport, GPAC Volleyball Dominates at NAIA Nationals in 2016

Break through.

Those two words would best describe the 2016 Great Plains Athletic Conference volleyball season. 

The GPAC qualified five teams for the final site of the NAIA Volleyball National Championship at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.  Hastings, Midland, Dordt, Doane, and Morningside all were a part of the expanded 32 team field.

However, qualifying a conference record five teams wasn't enough. 

As the week unfolded the wins kept coming for the collective GPAC group and by Saturday three GPAC teams remained in the tourney in the Fab Four.  Hastings, Midland, and Dordt all punched tickets to the Fab Four. 

The GPAC had risen to the top of what is an always competitive national field in volleyball. 

Earlier in the tournament, not be forgotten, Morningside knocked off the fourth fab four team, #7 Park, in five sets and Doane advanced to single elimination play after placing second in their pool. 

Break through was certainly the mantra for the week for the GPAC.

In particular, Dordt College had played in a NAIA volleyball fab four one other time in their ten trips to nationals in school history, in 2003.  After a thrilling win over the defending National Champions from Columbia on Friday night in the Elite Eight the Defenders found themselves back in the national semifinals on Saturday morning.  The foe would be fellow GPAC member Midland, who by special mention, was playing the furthest they have ever played in the NAIA Volleyball Tournament .

Dordt would go on to sweep Midland on Saturday morning in front of a large crowd of Defender National faithful who made numerous trips south just 45 minutes to Sioux City throughout the week to the Tyson Events Center.

Dordt would go on to play Hastings in the All-GPAC final (more coming on this later in the GPAC Top 10 for 2016) and fell in a five-set thriller on Saturday night December 3.

Ema Altena, Brooke Granstra and Jamie Gesink all were named to the NAIA All-Tournament team and Dordt's 28 wins are the most for the Defenders since 2010.

 "We absolutely loved this tournament experience and were incredibly blessed for the support we received from Defender Nation." said Dordt Volleyball Coach Chad Hanson.  "To represent Dordt College in a first ever National Championship Finals was truly an honor and a privilege.  When we distance ourselves from the sting of almost winning, I'm confident we will quickly be reminded of how special this season has been."

Team/GPAC Moment #4 (December 28, 2016) –

4. Morningside Softball Banner Year Concludes with NAIA World Series Appearance

2016 marked the second year that Sioux City hosted the NAIA Softball World Series at Morningside College and this year the event featured the hometown Mustangs at the Jensen Softball Complex.  Morningside was the first GPAC team to play in the NAIA Softball World Series*.

Morningside softball posted a 47-10 record in the 2016 softball season for its most victories in school history and broke their former record of 46 wins in a season when they went 46-11 in the 2011 campaign. Morningside won Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) regular season and post-season tournament championships and won the Morningside Bracket of the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round as they made their first-ever appearance in the NAIA Softball World Series.

The Mustangs posted their 14th consecutive winning season under head coach Jessica Jones-Sitzmann and made their eighth national tournament appearance in the last nine years.

Also of note from GPAC softball in 2016 is that a national record fell in the Opening Round, at the Oklahoma City Bracket, when Doane took on No. 20 Houston-Victoria in an elimination game of the NAIA National Championship Opening Round. The game went an NAIA Opening Round record 18 innings as the Jaguars held back the Tigers, 1-0. The loss ended the Tigers season at 32-17, as Doane recorded the second most wins in program history.  Ellie Doughty from Doane threw 17 2/3 innings in the game and whirled 237 pitches with 13 strikeouts.  The 18 inning affair came right after an eight inning win for the Tigers against Friends (KS)

*The GPAC has sent teams to the NAIA Softball Final Site under the old championship format, but Morningside was the first to play in the 10 team NAIA World Series format.

Team/GPAC Moment #5 (December 27, 2016) –

5. Red Raiders and Norris Shine at NAIA Men's National Cross Country Championships

Northwestern's Will Norris finished third at the NAIA Men's Cross Country National Championship held at the North Farms Cross Country course in Elsah, Ill, this past November. 

Norris ran a personal best and broke his own school record for the fourth straight race with an 8K time of 24:29. He finished third among the 331 runners, the best ever finish by a Northwestern men's runner and matching the best finish of any NWC runner (Olivia Johnson-3rd in 2007). Norris was 40 seconds in back of the individual champion, Jackson Thomas (Bacone) 23:50 and 32 seconds in back of second place Geoffrey Kipchumba (William Carey). Norris earned All-American honors by finishing in the top 30 overall.

Northwestern, who won their first GPAC team title two weeks earlier, placed sixth out of 37 teams in the men's race, the best ever finish by a Red Raider team at the NAIA Championship (the women's team placed 10th in 2007). Prior to the 2016 championship, the top finish by the Red Raider men was 21st in 2014.  The sixth place finish by NWC is the best ever by a GPAC Men's Cross Country Team.

The Red Raider men totaled 306 points, 47 points in back of fifth place The Master's (261). Southern Oregon ran away with the team championship with 122 points, followed by St. Francis (Ill.) with 148 and British Columbia with 152.

Peter Smith was the second Northwestern finisher, placing 66th with a time of 25:47. Tanner Goetsch crossed the finish line in 95th place with a time of 25:58, followed closely by Tim Rose in 100th place and a time of 26:00. Ryan Bauermeister (137-26:16), Hans Epp (208th-26:44) and Peter Hollinger (236th-27:00) round out the NWC runners. 

Other cross country items of note.  Morningside's women also won their first ever GPAC title.  Also on the women's side, Dordt College advanced to NAIA Nationals for a record 5th year in a row and Marissa DeWispelare from Doane was 15th and finished as an NAIA All-American.

Team/GPAC Moment #6 (December 26, 2016) –

6. GPAC Hosts Year Two of KCAC/GPAC Football Challenge, Challenge Renewed Through 2018

The 2016 GPAC Football Season kicked off with the GPAC schools hosting the KCAC/GPAC Football Challenge.  After an 8-1 year in 2015 on the road, the GPAC went 8-2 in year two on their home fields.

In December the two leagues announced that the KCAC/GPAC Challenge would be extended through 2018 and the 2017 pairings were announced.

"We are excited to enter another two-year rotation with the KCAC and the Football Challenge," GPAC Commissioner Corey Westra said. "Since the very beginning of this relationship it's been about two conferences working together to schedule games and fill our schedules with high-quality competition from leagues that mirror each other in mission and fit. This is not only good for our conferences but NAIA football as a whole, we need each other to keep our sport strong year in and year out."

"The KCAC member institutions look forward to building on the results from the previous two-year agreement with our NAIA colleagues in the GPAC," stated Dr. Scott Crawford, KCAC Commissioner.  "These games establish the tone for the season and prepare teams for the challenges they will face in conference play.  We are excited to be partnered with the Great Plains Athletic Conference and Texas Wesleyan University for the 2017 and 2018 seasons."

With only nine football schools in the GPAC, the two conferences introduce Texas Wesleyan University to complete the 10th pairing for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. With this being the first year of football at Texas Wesleyan, the Rams will be the No. 10 team and take on McPherson College in the first year. The standings following the 2017 season will determine Texas Wesleyan's ranking in the 2018 KCAC-GPAC Challenge. 

"We are very excited to get on the field and have the opportunity to play McPherson College," Texas Wesleyan head coach Joe Prud'homme said. "This will be the beginning of a new era at Texas Wesleyan with the rebirth of the football program and we appreciate the KCAC extending the invitation to play."

2017 KCAC/GPAC Football Challenge Pairings HERE 

Special mention from the GPAC Football Season is Tyler Kavan from Morningside with the ESPN Sports Center #1 Play-of-the-Day on November 12.  Watch it here:

Team/GPAC Moment #7 (December 25, 2016) –

7. Mount Marty Women's Basketball Advances to Fab Four as Six GPAC Teams Play in Sioux City at Nationals in March

A historic season for the Lancers came to an end short of where they wanted but probably further than most expected.

That was at least some consolation for the Mount Marty College women.

Having reached the Fab Four for the first time in school history, the Lancers ran into a hot-shooting opponent — Marian University, of Indiana — in the semifinals of the NAIA Division II National Tournament in Sioux City.

Though disappointed by the 84-55 loss, the Lancers said later they realized they accomplished more than many outsiders envisioned.

"It feels really good for us, because everyone doubted us," said junior Kellie Winckler, who had eight points and four rebounds.

"We would've loved to win, yeah, but we're proud of where we got to."

Picked to finish ninth in their preseason league poll, the Lancers (25-11) instead put together the best season in school history. 

Never before had Mount Marty won more than one game in the national tournament. The Lancers instead won three.

"It sucks, but we had a good season," said senior Raquel Sutera, who had eight points and five rebounds in her final game. 

"It's bittersweet."

Having gotten to the point of being able to compete for a national championship appearance was a significant step for the program, according to coach Tom Schlimgen who finished his eight season.

"We were disappointed, obviously, and I know our players are, but we talk a lot about 'no regrets,'" Schlimgen said. "And I didn't have a problem with our effort at all."

Marian would go on to defeat Southern Oregon the next night and win the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Title for 2016.

The GPAC sent a record six teams into Sioux City this past year to compete in the NAIA Tournament with Mount Marty joined by Dakota Wesleyan, Morningside, Concordia, Briar Cliff, and Hastings.

Team/GPAC Moment #8 (December 24, 2016) –

8.  The University of Jamestown Joins the GPAC
In October the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) announced the University of Jamestown (UJ) as the newest member of the league.  The announcement was made on Thursday, October 13,  in Jamestown, North Dakota, during a press conference at the Foss Wellness Center on the University of Jamestown campus.  The University of Jamestown Jimmies will officially join the GPAC beginning with the 2018-19 academic year after being approved at the October 11, 2016 meeting of the GPAC Council of Presidents. 

"We are excited to have the University of Jamestown join the GPAC," said Corey Westra, GPAC Commissioner.  "The University of Jamestown is an outstanding faith-based institution that aligns well with the current members of the GPAC. In addition, they have a robust offering of sports."  The University of Jamestown expands the reach of the GPAC into another state.  "This was an opportunity to strengthen the GPAC as one of the top conferences in the NAIA," added Westra.  "The University of Jamestown fits our conference not only athletically, but academically, and that is what we are about, academic and athletic excellence."

UJ offers 18 varsity sports and fully meets the sport offering requirements of the GPAC.  A handful of the University of Jamestown teams (Cheer, Dance and Wrestling) will participate as affiliate members of the conference in the 2017-18 academic year. The Jimmies will become the 12th member of the GPAC which was founded in 2000-2001.  Currently the University of Jamestown is a member of the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA). 

"In recent years, like many colleges and universities around the country, the University of Jamestown has faced change in athletic conference relationships," said University of Jamestown President Robert S. Badal, Ph.D.  "The demise of the DAC, a brief period as an independent, and a start up for a new North Star Conference have taken place quickly. We have now taken another step forward with a new conference alignment with the Great Plains Athletic Conference, and we are making that change for all of the right reasons for the future.  We are thankful for our history and, at the same time, pleased to begin a new journey as a member of the GPAC."

"This is a great day for the University of Jamestown, Jimmie Athletics and our student-athletes," said University of Jamestown Athletic Director Sean Johnson. "This is an opportunity for us be associated with one of the best NAIA conferences in the country.  We are very grateful to the GPAC Presidents and Athletic Directors."

Team/GPAC Moment #9 (December 23, 2016) –

9. Cypress Risk Management becomes Official GPAC Championships Sponsor

In October the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) announced the addition of Cypress Risk Management as the "Official Championships Sponsor of the GPAC".  Under the arrangement Cypress Risk Management became the title sponsor for the 21 GPAC Championship events in the conference.  The arrangement includes all postseason championship and tournament events along with recognition of the regular season football champion in the GPAC.

"We are thrilled about partnering with the GPAC, a conference comprised of high-level institutions dedicated to providing a best in class student experience," said Cypress Risk Management CEO Gary King. "The core values of the members perfectly align with our company mission, and we look forward to a bright future together."

"This is a big announcement for the GPAC and our member schools," said GPAC Commissioner Corey Westra.  "Our GPAC Championships are at the core of what we do for the student-athlete experience in the conference.  This partnership allows us to enhance our championship events for the more than 5,000 student-athletes in the GPAC."

GPAC Championship Banners (pictured is volleyball) were handed out at all the fall championships and will be for all 21 championship sports in the GPAC.  Individual members ofeach team will also receive a Championship T-Shirt from Cypress Risk Management.

   

Team/GPAC Moment #10 (December 22, 2016):

10. Briar Cliff Men's Basketball Wraps Year #50 with GPAC Regular and Postseason Titles –

In 2015-16 Briar Cliff University celebrated 50 years of basketball at the school.  The year started with the passing of legendary coach Ray Nacke in September and ended in March with a 32 win season and the GPAC Regular and Post-Season Championships.Along the way many former players came back to campus making Wednesday's and Saturday's at the Newman Flanagan Center full of excitement as the Chargers went through the GPAC at 18-2 and finished at 32-4 and played in the NAIA National Quarterfinals in Point Lookout, Missouri.The final poll at had Briar Cliff at fourth in the country.Other GPAC honorees included: Defensive Player-of-the-Year Bryan Forbes; Freshman-of-the-Year Erich Erdman; and the Hauff Mid-America Sports/GPAC Coach-of-the-Year Nic Nelson.