Trio of Kent, Smith, Wiersema pull in All-GPAC honors; Cockerill and Rushton grab honors in WBB

Trio of Kent, Smith, Wiersema pull in All-GPAC honors; Cockerill and Rushton grab honors in WBB
March 4th, 2021 | Beth Rogers

SEWARD, Neb. – Strong seasons from a trio of Concordia University Men’s Basketball standouts have resulted in all-conference honors. As announced by the league on Wednesday (March 3), juniors Justin Wiersema (first team), Carter Kent (second team) and Gage Smith (second team) each landed on the 2020-21 All-GPAC squads. All three Bulldogs averaged 13.9 points or more while starring for Head Coach Ben Limback’s program.

Wiersema took a large step forward in 2020-21 while becoming one of the top players in the entire conference. The native of Loveland, Colo., averaged career highs of 16.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.58 steals per game this season while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor and 41.0 percent from 3-point range. Among GPAC players, Wiersema ranked fifth in field goal percentage, sixth in scoring, sixth in steals per game, 10th in 3-point field goal percentage and 11th in assists per game. Wiersema moved up to the first team after earning honorable mention All-GPAC accolades in 2019-20. He scored at least 10 points in all 26 games. Wiersema will enter next season having totaled 896 points.

Smith made a quantum leap from his sophomore to junior seasons. The native of Elizabeth, Colo., went from averages of 4.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in 2019-20 to 13.9 points and 9.2 rebounds this winter. As part of the breakout campaign, Smith shot 52.6 percent from the floor, 35.7 percent from 3-point range and 82.1 percent from the foul line. In career best single-game outings, Smith posted 32 points in a win over Dakota Wesleyan and 19 rebounds in a victory over Manhattan Christian College (Kan.). He ranked third among GPAC players in both rebounding and double-doubles (10).

Kent has earned some form of all-conference recognition in each of his three seasons having also been named honorable mention in 2018-19 and to the second team in 2019-20. As a junior, the Crete, Neb., averaged 15.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 40.4 percent from the floor, 34.6 percent from beyond the arc and 75.0 percent from the foul line. Kent racked up a career high 29 points in a win over Mount Marty. Back on Jan. 9, Kent became the 32nd player in program history to reach 1,000 career points (currently at 1,145).

Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad finished the 2020-21 campaign with an overall record of 17-9. Concordia’s 14 GPAC wins tied a program single-season record for conference victories. The Bulldogs tied for third place in the conference regular season.

After putting on a show in the 2021 GPAC tournament championship game, junior Taylor Cockerill and freshman Taysha Rushton have pulled in first team All-GPAC honors, as announced by the league on Wednesday (March 3). Meanwhile, juniors Mackenzie Koepke and Rylee Pauli were both recognized as honorable mention all-conference choices. Head Coach Drew Olson’s program also placed two players on the first team last season (Grace Barry and Philly Lammers).

Cockerill is now a two-time first team all-conference honoree. The Waverly High School product also picked up first team accolades in 2018-19 for the national championship team. While returning from an injury that sidelined her in 2019-20, Cockerill has started all 28 games and leads the team in points (14.5), rebounds (6.2) and assists (3.04) per game. She is shooting 41.7 percent from the floor, 38.0 percent from 3-point range and 78.7 percent from the foul line. Twice this season Cockerill has poured in 33 points in a single game. She will enter the national tournament having piled up career totals of 1,324 points (16th most in program history), 471 rebounds, 244 assists, 164 steals and 148 3-point field goals. She was chosen as a 2018-19 NAIA honorable mention All-America selection.

Rushton emerged as a strong candidate for the GPAC Freshman of the Year award (which wound up going to Dakota Wesleyan’s Haidyn Pitsch). The native of Lubbock, Texas, immediately stepped into a starting role and has averaged 14.3 points, 2.6 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Rushton is shooting 36.6 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from 3-point range and 81.9 percent from the free throw line. Rushton ranks fourth among all GPAC players with 66 made 3-point field goals (2.36 per game). Her scoring average is the second highest for a freshman during Drew Olson’s tenure.

Koepke has garnered some form of all-conference recognition in each of her three collegiate seasons. She collected honorable mention (2018-19) and second team All-GPAC (2019-20) accolades the previous two seasons. The Lincoln Lutheran High School alum is averaging 7.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.0 block per game. She is shooting 29.9 percent from 3-point range. Koepke has totaled 736 points, 375 rebounds, 176 3-point field goals and 173 steals over 99 career collegiate games.

Pauli is a first time All-GPAC honoree in what is her first season as a starter. The Omaha, Neb., native is averaging 6.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor. Pauli posted a career high 20 points in the win at Doane. Her GPAC tournament included a 16-point, seven-rebound outing versus Dakota Wesleyan. Pauli has started 26 of 28 games.

The 17th-ranked Bulldogs will learn of their assignment and opponent for the opening round of the national tournament on Thursday when the NAIA bracket is announced. The selection show is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT on Thursday.

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