Five Storylines to Follow as Thomas More Looks to Defends its Crown

By Justin Zackal


Thomas More won its 10th consecutive PAC Championship on Saturday.

When Thomas More finished last season undefeated, the Saints became the sixth team in NCAA Division III women’s basketball history to finish with a perfect record. The Saints have a chance to do it again as the reigning national champions enter the NCAA tournament ranked No. 1 with a 27-0 record.

Thomas More hosts the first and second round games this weekend at the Connor Convocation Center, beginning with a 7 p.m. encounter with La Roche on Friday, which follows the Mount Union-Guilford game. Both winners play Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

Here are five storylines to follow as the Saints make their 10th straight NCAA tournament appearance.

FAMILIARITY: Thomas More has played 16 NCAA tournament games at home (11-5) since 2008, including 4-0 last year and 2-0 in 2014. The Saints are 5-3 away from home in the NCAAs.

“Being able to put ourselves in a situation to play here at home is big,” said fifth-year head coach Jeff Hans. “To have people come here with the fans we’re able to get, I think that they’ll give us a little bit of a comfort level that we like to have.”

The Saints are also familiar with their first-round opponent, La Roche (24-3), who they beat 97-46 at home last season, but they also were able to watch film on the Redhawks this year against several of the Saints’ PAC opponents. La Roche went 3-1 against PAC teams this year, splitting with PAC runner-up Washington & Jefferson (losing 90-82 on Nov. 28 and winning 72-61 on Dec. 20) and easily defeating Westminster (66-48) and Waynesburg (76-53). La Roche also played at Thomas More in last year’s NCAA first round, but it did not play the Saints, instead losing to Eastern Mennonite, 77-76.

La Roche may be right behind Thomas More in field goal percentage, ranked third in the nation with 47 percent to the Saints’ top percentage of 48.3. However, in average scoring margin the Redhawks may be fifth in the country at 21.7 points per game, but the Saints’ 40.3 average margin is nearly 13 points better than any other team.

IT’S MARCH MADNESS. It may be easy for the defending national champions to overlook their early round opponents. But, according to Hans, you can’t look ahead to potential opponents.

“We want to approach it this weekend one game at a time and don’t worry about what’s ahead because you just never know,” Hans said. “When you start worrying about the other teams in our bracket, you just have no idea what’s going to happen and who’s going to come out. It’s March Madness.”

Last year, the Saints defeated the eighth-ranked (Washington-St. Louis), second-ranked (St. Thomas), fifth-ranked (Tufts) and third-ranked (George Fox) teams to win the title. They could face fifth-ranked Hope in the quarterfinal and the fourth-ranked Amherst in the semifinal.


Madison Temple is the PAC Freshman of the Year.

PLAYING TOGETHER. With such a collection of talent, a key development this year for Thomas More has been team chemistry on the court.

The starting five is led by senior Sydney Moss, the two-time Division III Player of the Year, who averages 22.0 points per game. Sophomores Abby Owings and Nikki Kiernan, both first-team all-PAC standouts, average 15.0 and 13.1 points, respectively. PAC Freshman of the Year Madison Temple averages 11.9 and senior Alexa Santamaria 5.0.

“The biggest improvement (this year) was just getting them all to play together and understand that it’s not going to be the same person every night,” Hans said.

SUBSTITUTION PATTERNS. One aspect of the NCAA tournament that favors a team with a star-studded lineup is media timeouts. There are more stoppages, one every five minutes when you include quarter breaks, compared to most regular season games.

“It hurts the deeper teams because they’re used to wearing teams out in the second half and that’s not the case because you have those breaks,” Hans said. “Then also it allows you to keep your starting five or your top seven or eight on the floor together more often.”

What’s more encouraging for Thomas More is it has depth if needed. The Saints’ bench has more experience with all those cushioned leads throughout the year. And, according to Hans, two seniors off the bench are playing their best late in the season.

“Samantha Cady had a great conference tournament for us,” Hans added. “She scored when she was supposed to, but just her defensive effort and her rebounding that she was able to provide. Her and Olivia Huber, what they give us off the bench, giving us solid minutes, has been great.”

SENSE OF URGENCY. As indicated by the scoring margin above, the Saints haven’t met much resistance this year. Their 93-74 win over W&J in the PAC championship was the only sub-20 winning margin since Thomas More won a pair of 14-point games to open the season, and those were without Moss.

Now the games mean something.

“The only difference is the sense of urgency, because you are fighting for your life,” Hans added. “You are trying to survive and advance. That’s the mentality that you have because it’s more of a grind. One possession can make the difference at the end.”