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Hanson helps Bears win 7th straight title

Nevis’ Riley Hanson helped Concordia-St. Paul capture its seventh straight NCAA Division II volleyball title.

     Riley Hanson chose to play volleyball at Concordia-St. Paul because of the Golden Bears’ tradition of winning national titles.

     In her first season, Hanson helped the Golden Bears make history by winning their seventh straight NCAA Division II title.

     Hanson, who was a three-time all-state player at Nevis, led the way with 15 kills as No. 3 Concordia defeated No. 4 BYU-Hawaii 25-15, 25-14, 25-20 in the national title match Dec. 14 at Cedar Rapids, IA. Hanson also had two solo blocks, one assisted block and two set assists as the Golden Bears capped off a 35-3 season and extended their winning streak in national tournament matches to 42.

     “I chose Concordia rather than other schools I visited because when I visited Concordia everything simply fell into place for me. I just loved the overall experience when visiting there. I knew once I left that it was where I wanted to go,” said Hanson. “With the Golden Bears’ reputation and the volleyball knowledge of the coaches, I knew we were going to be a competitive team. As I went through practices, my thoughts were confirmed, but I also didn’t know just how good our competition would be. I knew that if we just stayed true to how we play volleyball, we would be a very competitive team and the outcome would work itself out.”

     Hanson more than held her own in her first national collegiate tournament.

     During the NCAA Central Region tournament Dec. 5-7 at Duluth, Hanson had five kills, one block and three assisted blocks as Concordia defeated No. 22 Northern State 25-18, 25-20, 25-10. Hanson followed with 10 kills, one block and three assisted blocks in the Bears’ 25-20, 25-20, 25-12 win over No. 5 Central Missouri. Concordia won the region title with a 25-22, 25-21, 29-27 win over No. 2 Minnesota Duluth as Hanson had 14 kills and three assisted blocks.

     At the NCAA Division II Championship, Hanson’s 12 kills, two solo blocks and three assisted blocks helped Concordia defeat No. 1 Tampa 18-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-22 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Hanson’s 10 kills helped the Golden Bears eliminate No. 25 Wheeling Jesuit 25-11, 25-16, 25-12. Hanson followed with a team-high 15 kills as Concordia defeated BYU-Hawaii for another national title.

     During the season, Hanson started all 38 matches and had 338 kills, five set assists, 26 digs, 23 solo blocks and 90 assisted blocks. Hanson was fourth on the team in kills. In those 38 matches, Hanson had double digits in kills 17 times with a high of 15.

     “The major differences from high school volleyball to college volleyball are the attitude and the pace of the game. In high school, the attitude wasn’t as intense as in college. The pace of the game in college is also 10 times faster than in high school. It is hard to get used to at first, but you catch on eventually,” said Hanson. “I was very happy with how I played my freshman season. I was lucky to have had such amazing players around me to take the pressure off and simply be able to focus on myself and my volleyball skills. I was also lucky to have great teammates on either side of me in the front row, which resulted in a single block for me most of the time. I was then given the opportunity to take advantage of the single block. With coaching and training, I was also able to improve my blocking. Overall I was happy with my freshman season.”

     In addition to playing six ranked teams during the playoffs, Concordia defeated No. 11 Colorado School of Mines, No. 9 Indianapolis, No. 21 Wingate, No. 15 Truman, No. 11 Angelo State, No. 1 Tampa, No. 1 Minnesota Duluth, No. 10 Wayne State and No. 6 Southwest Minnesota State while losing to No. 20 Wayne State and No. 4 Minnesota Duluth during the regular season.

     The Golden Bears defeated Minnesota Crookston and No. 22 Northern State during the Northern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament Nov. 20-24 before losing to No. 2 Minnesota Duluth in the championship match. Concordia finished with a 19-1 record in NSIC play.

     Even though Concordia graduates five seniors, Hanson is looking for the Golden Bears to put another competitive team on the floor next season.

     “Each season is different. There are different players and different team dynamics. Other teams are also completely different,” said Hanson. “I think we are going to adapt well to those changes and be another competitive team. We are going to simply focus on our team and do everything we can to become the best team possible. We will see what happens from there.”