Men in, women out of NCAA playoffs

The men's basketball team defeated Gustavus to win the MIAC championship. (Gina Dolski/TommieMedia)

The St. Thomas men’s basketball team will play St. Paul’s Northwestern College at 7:30 p.m. Friday at home in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

The Tommie women’s team failed to get an NCAA bid after losing in the conference tournament finals to Concordia-Moorhead Saturday.

The bids were announced Monday afternoon, although St. Thomas’ MIAC championship guaranteed the team an automatic bid. The Tommies (24-3) are making their sixth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and 12th appearance overall.

“You are just excited to be in the NCAA tournament,” Coach Steve Fritz said. “We’ve played them over the years and had a great relationship with them, so it’ll be a good first game for both of us.”

Northwestern (21-6) is 1-8 all-time against St. Thomas, and the last time the schools faced each other was in 2002. This is Northwestern’s first trip to the NCAA Division III tournament.

“They won their conference, and they won their conference tournament, so they have done good things all year,” Fritz said. “It sounds like they are a fairly guard-orientated team so as we prepare those are the things you have to get ready for.”

The Eagles are currently riding a 14-game winning streak. They defeated the University of Minnesota-Morris to capture the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference championship for the fourth time in the last five years.

Junior forward Tommy Hannon said Northwestern is playing well right now.

“They have a lot of confidence,” he said. “They handled their conference pretty easily.”

“If you win on Friday you have to play the other winner, which would be the winner of Illinois Wesleyan (19-8) and [Wisconsin-] River Falls (20-7),” Fritz said. Those two teams play Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the AARC.

St. Thomas defeated River Falls 65-60 Nov. 23.

Fritz said that if the Tommies win both games this weekend, next weekend they could be either at home or traveling somewhere in the Midwest.

“It’s a very exciting time to be involved in the NCAA tournament,” Fritz said. “Hopefully [we] take a crack at the ultimate goal of winning a national championship.”

Women miss out on NCAA bid

The regular-season conference title was not enough for the St. Thomas women’s basketball team to advance to the NCAA Division III tournament.

The women had a 20-win season and made it to the MIAC conference final game, but they lost 71-61 to the Concordia-Moorhead Cobbers, who received the automatic bid.

Coach Ruth Sinn said she was disappointed because the team was the conference champion, and its hard work and strong conference play went unnoticed.The NCAA committee selects the top 64 teams for the tournament.

“Out of our 25 game schedule, 22 of them are conference games, so we don’t have any comparatives outside of our conference,” Sinn said. “Because of this, it makes our conference look weak.”

Sinn said the team’s first loss to St. Kate’s was a turning point in the season, and a different result could have helped the team get a bid to nationals.

“If you look at St. Kate’s record, they are [second] to last in the conference,” she said. “We can’t lose to them, and that kept us out.”

But Sinn highlighted the positives of the season.

“We won the conference outright. St. Ben’s has won the conference for the last five years either outright or shared,” Sinn said. “We became the outright conference champions. That’s a huge accomplishment.”

For seniors Becky Theisen, Jazmin Townsend and Rachel Booth, Saturday’s loss to Concordia-Moorhead was their last game as Tommies. Sinn said the trio will be hard to replace, but she is proud of the team members because they cared for each other, and the underclassmen gained experience in the playoffs.

“Hopefully this loss hurt,” Sinn said. “They’ll use that hurt to motivate them to take the next step in the next few years.”