Champs: Thomas More Claims Women's Basketball National Title
The Thomas More women’s basketball team successfully completed its quest for an unblemished season, routing previously undefeated George Fox University (OR.), 83-63 in the Division III National Championship game.
A 20-point win in the national championship sounds outlandish, but it has been par for the course this season for the Lady Saints of Thomas More College. Their final average margin of victory this year stands at 32.8 points per game, and their closest postseason game was a 10-point win over Tufts University (MA.) in the NCAA Semifinals.
Much of the attention Thomas More received the past few weeks has illuminated the play of junior forward Sydney Moss (Boone County), and rightfully so. The uber-talented University of Florida transfer had put up an impressive 35.6 points and 10.6 rebounds in the postseason heading into the Lady Saints’ championship game, and she is likely to win her second consecutive Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division III Player-of-the-Year Award.
Moss played a much different role in Thomas More’s championship game, however, acting as facilitator and trusting her teammates to pick up much of the scoring load - and pick it up, they did.
Thomas More jumped out to an 11-5 lead four minutes into the game, behind six early points for junior forward Alexa Santamaria (Mount Notre Dame).
George Fox University’s zone defense interrupted Thomas More’s offensive flow for much of the game’s first ten minutes, but at the 9:30 mark of the first half, Moss flashed to the middle of GFU’s zone, and when two defenders collapsed on her, she found Santamaria under the basket for her fourth field goal of the first half.
Santamaria’s basket sparked a 13-2 Thomas More run, pushing Thomas More ahead 31-16 with 2:45 to play in the first half. George Fox responded with a 5-0 run of their own, but Sydney Moss scored at the buzzer to give the Lady Saints a 33-21 halftime lead.
After a GFU three-pointer to open the second half, Thomas More answered with back-to-back three-pointers by Moss and Freshman guard Abby Owings (Simon Kenton), to extend their lead to 39-24.
Thomas More’s lead would never shrunk to single digits again. The Lady Saints turned the ball over 24 times for the game, but shot a blistering 59% from the field in the second half, including 5-10 on three-pointers en route to scoring 50 second half points. Thomas More also shot 82% (18-22) from the free throw line on the night.
Sydney Moss, the Tournament MVP, recorded her first collegiate triple-double, notching 19 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists. Moss repeatedly found open teammates on the blocks once the GFU zone collapsed on her when she caught the ball at the top of the key.
Abby Owings chipped in 17 points for the Saints’ balanced scoring attack. Santamaria finished with 14 points and freshman forward Nikki Kiernan (Newport Central Catholic) tallied 16 points and 6 rebounds, including 14 second-half points. Kiernan and Santamaria were the beneficiaries of several high-low post feeds from Moss.
Thomas More Athletic Director Terry Connor took a minute after the game to reflect on the significance of bringing the national championship trophy back to Crestview Hills.
“What it means to the community is amazing – not just the women’s basketball team, but all of Thomas More and the whole community. The Final Four is on a different level. We’d never been there before, and now to win a national championship; I don’t think you can put that impact into words.”
Freshman forward Nikki Kiernan echoed Terry Connor’s sentiments. “You really can’t explain [this feeling],” Kiernan said. “It’s something you dream of when you’re little, and then to actually be here and win it.. It’s incredible.”
Thomas More finishes the season with a perfect 33-0 record and the first national championship in Thomas More College history.
- Story by Alex Valentine, RCN Contributor
Photo by Steve Frommel for Thomas More