The 2011-2012 season was a historic one for the St. Thomas women’s basketball team. The Tommies accomplished many feats, to say the least. Let’s recap the last five months:
Sophomore Taylor Young (left), junior Kellie Ring (left center), senior Ali Johnson (right center) and freshman Anna Smith (right) cheer during the final seconds of the Tommies consolation victory against Amherst. Young, Ring and Smith will all be key players coming back to play for St. Thomas next season. (Ryan Shaver/TommieMedia)
The Tommies won the NCAA consolation championship, defeating 2011 national champion Amherst 87-60 Saturday in Holland, Mich. Amherst was ranked No. 1 all season. St. Thomas was not ranked coming into the season but worked its way to No. 10. The Tommies finished the season ranked No. 3 in the nation.
This was the program’s fifth Final Four appearance and its fourth third-place finish. The other third-place finishes came in 1995, 1996 and 2000. The Tommies won the national championship in 1991. Only two teams have played in more Final Fours: Washington University of St. Louis (10) and Scranton (7).
St. Thomas’ 31-2 overall record is noteworthy, too. The 31 wins are a program record for most wins in a season. It also ties a MIAC record for most wins in a season; Concordia-Moorhead also won 31 back in the 1981-82 season.
The Tommies’ 30-game winning streak set a program record for the most consecutive wins in a single season. The longest overall winning streak is 40 games; the 1991 national champion team won its last 13 games, and the 1991-92 squad won its first 27.
The Tommies went 22-0 in conference play. It was the fifth time in program history that the team posted an undefeated conference record; the 1991-92, 1995-96, 1996-97 squads went 20-0, and the 1999-2000 team went 22-0.
Sophomore forward Taylor Young was named one of D3hoops.com’s 20 All-America honorees. Young made the fourth team and was the only sophomore honored. She also led the team in scoring, averaging 13.4 points per game.
Sophomore center Maggie Weiers was named to the five-player NCAA all-tournament team in Holland, Mich. Weiers posted 15 points and 10 rebounds in the semifinal loss to Illinois Wesleyan and tallied 21 points and four rebounds in the consolation game against Amherst.
Coach Ruth Sinn was voted the West Region Coach of the Year and MIAC Coach of the Year. It was the second MIAC honor Sinn has received in her seven seasons at St. Thomas.
Young, Weiers and senior center Sarah Smith all received first-team MIAC honors. Young and Weiers were the youngest players to be named to the first team. Senior forward Ali Johnson was named MIAC honorable mention. Sophomore guard Kelly Brandenburg was named to the five-player all-defensive team, and freshman forward Anna Smith was among the five players voted to the all-rookie team. Senior center Haley Loesch was named to the all-sportsmanship team.
The Tommies will lose four seniors to graduation: Smith, Johnson, Loesch and guard Carolyn Dienhart. During the team’s last four years, the senior class guided the Tommies to a 91-25 record, winning two regular season and two conference playoff titles. Smith, Johnson and Dienhart started in almost every game this season.
Should Tommie fans be worried? There will be three open starting slots for players like junior guard Kellie Ring, Brandenburg and Smith to step into. Ring made the key steal to secure the Tommies’ Sweet 16 victory over Tufts and is one of the quickest point guards in the country. Brandenburg is a defensive force who can shut down her opponent; she pestered Amherst senior guard Caroline Stedman (who was the Most Outstanding Player in the 2011 Final Four) in the consolation game. Smith also has the potential to develop into a strong presence in the post, which will complement Weiers.
Keep in mind that the Tommies’ top two players are only sophomores. Both Young and Weiers are premiere players in the MIAC and will only improve with time. The sophomore duo has high expectations for next season after guiding the Tommies to the Final Four; Weiers called the victory over Amherst a “big step” for the program.
The most important quality this team has is the uncanny chemistry between the players. The team is truly at its best when the players are out on the court having fun and pushing the temp. The energy they create is clear and present from the starters to the reserves.
Both Sinn and her players said the team’s summer trip to Italy is what sparked the chemistry. Being able to bond on the court against Italian teams and off the court experiencing a new culture helped St. Thomas create its own culture of total inclusiveness and no drama. So, while the team is losing four key seniors, the strong team chemistry will remain the key force that guides the Tommies to another successful season in 2012-2013.
Hayley Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.