Undefeated Tommie women ready for Final Four

Undefeated Tommie women ready for Final Four

By Gene McGivern, University of St. Thomas

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- No. 2-ranked and 31-0 Tommie Women's Basketball will compete in the national semifinals Friday March 17 in Grand Rapids, Mich., on the campus of Calvin College.

The Tommies face No. 4-ranked Tufts (Mass.) (29-2) at 4 p.m. Minnesota time, preceding the 6:30 p.m. contest between No. 1-ranked Amherst (Mass.) (31-0) and No. 10-ranked Christopher Newport (Va.) (29-2).

Friday's winners play Saturday at 7 p.m. for the national championship. (There is no longer a third-place game contested). All three games will have live video and live stats at www.ncaa.com. St. Thomas is averaging 74.0 points while allowing just 53.0 points a contest.


After flying in to town on Wednesday afternoon, the Tommies participated in a flurry of Thursday team events: a service project; a team practice; a team photo shoot; a coach/players press conference; plus a banquet.

The latter event was highlighted with news that two major awards went to Tommie seniors:

  • Center Kaitlin Langer repeated as a Women's Basketball Coaches Association first-team All-America (10 players);
  • Point guard Paige Gernes received the NCAA Elite 90 award with the top grade-point average among 60-plus players from the four remaining semifinal teams. Gernes has previously received the MIAC equivalent with three career Elite 22 awards awarded at the conference playoff finals. She has an unblemished 4.00 gpa and is a Biology major.

Did You Know?
St. Thomas and Amherst are the lone Division III institutions to send both their men and women into the NCAA basketball playoffs each of the last six seasons.

Quick Look
Amherst: Seventh Final Four in program history... leads Division III in scoring defense by allowing just 40.2 ppg, second in scoring margin... 237-17 W-L this decade (last eight seasons)... starts three seniors.

Tufts: Fourth consecutive Final Four appearance... only two losses this season were to Amherst by 36-35 and 41-37 margins... second in Division III in scoring defense by allowing just 42.4, seventh in scoring margin... 204-34 W-L this decade (last eight seasons)... start

Christopher Newport: Second Final Four in program history... 205-36 W-L this decade (last eight seasons)... lost conference games to Marymount and Mary Washington... eliminated Hope and 30-0 Ohio Northern in last two games... received 46 bench points and made 13 treys in Elite 8 win over Ohio Northern... no senior starters.

St. Thomas: Sixth Final Four in program history... 208-33 W-L this decade (last eight seasons)... ranked fourth nationally in FT percentage (77.8), sixth in FG percentage, and 15th in 3FG percentage (36.5) as well as sixth in scoring margin... went 7-0 against teams in D-III tournament... starts three seniors.

Last Time
Five years ago in the NCAA round of 16, St. Thomas edged Tufts 50-47 -- their only previous women's basketball meeting. In that defensive battle, Tufts shot 24 percent from the field, the Tommies shot 34 percent.

Last December in men's soccer, Tufts edged St. Thomas 2-1 in the national semfinals, and one day later won the NCAA crown.

This is St. Thomas' 24th NCAA tournament appearance, all in the last 34 seasons, with an all-time NCAA playoff record of 50-23.

St. Thomas has qualified for 15 of the 16 conference playoff held with seven titles and an all-time record of 21-9 (17-1 this decade).

Awards Season
UST senior Kaitlin Langer on Monday was announced as the repeat honoree as D3hoops.com West Region Player of the Year. Ruth Sinn was named West Region Coach of the Year.

St. Thomas Women's Basketball also swept the three major conference awards announced last week -- Langer, repeat Player of the Year; Hannah Spaulding, Sixth Player of the Year; Ruth Sinn, Coach of the Year.

Lauren Fischer and Gabby Zehrer joined Langer on the 18-player All-MIAC team.

Paige Gernes and Langer made the five-player All-Defensive Team.

Gernes and Lucia Renikoff made the 10-player honorable mention All-MIAC unit.

See MIAC news release here

Postseason Run
The Tommies are 6-0 so far. They won home conference playoff games Feb. 24 and 26 against St. Ben's (75-52) and No. 13-ranked Gustavus (66-49), and in the process claimed the MIAC playoff championship for the sixth year in a row.

On March 3-4, the Toms topped UW-Superior (98-56) and Chicago (73-69) at home. On March 10-11, St. Thomas sidelined Marymount (62-55) and Whitman (65-48).

The Streak
UST has won 47 of its last 48 games. UST has won its last 23 games away from Schoenecker Arena dating back 12 months. The Toms have won 34 consecutive game against MIAC opponents. They also have won 87 of their last 92 games against MIAC teams (66-3 in such games since mid-February 2014). The Toms are 149-16 against conference opponents since January 2010. St. Thomas will take a 35-game regular-season victory streak into next season.

Did You Know?
St. Thomas has limited 20 of 31 opponents under 58 points.

Did You Know, II?
St. Thomas (31-0) is one of just four NCAA men's or women's basketball teams at all NCAA levels still unbeaten -- Connecticut (D-I), Amherst and UST (D-III) on the women's side, and Whitman (D-III) on the men's side.

Rare Resume
Senior Kaitlin Langer recently surpassed four collegiate milestones -- 100 games played; 1,200 points; 600 rebounds; and 100 blocked shots.

Langer played in five games early as a freshman as Division II Winona State before she transferred to St. Thomas for the second semester. At Winona she totalled 19 points and four rebounds. Along with her UST totals, it gives her 115 games, 1,298 points and 635 rebounds as a collegian.

She has joined Laurie Trow and Maggie Weiers as the lone Tommie women to surpass 1,200 points, 600 boards and 100 blocked shots.

Double Double
Langer recently recorded her 27th double-double in points and rebounds, and UST is 25-2 in those game. In 11 postseason starts in the last two seasons, she's averaging 20 points and nine rebounds.

She has led the Tommies to a 57-4 record in her two seasons as a starter. The 32 points at Gustavus Feb. 1 matched her career high, and she came back with 29 points Feb. 26 in the rematch with the ranked Gusties.

The senior center averaged 17.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season en route to MIAC and West Region Player of the Year honors. Her 17.9 ppg were the best by any Tommie women's basketball player in the last 18 seasons. She surpassed 500 season points last winter in 30 games -- the most points in one season by a Tommie since 2000.

Ruth Sinn was named D3hoops.com West Region Coach of the Year for the third time in six seasons. She secured career win No. 250 in late December after a 78-67 win over Hope College.

Sinn is in her 30th season as a head coach at the prep and college level, and is in her 12th season as the head women's coach at St. Thomas. Her Tommie teams have won 77 percent of their games with a combined record of 272-75.

Sinn has guided the Toms to a 167-18 record (.893) over the last six years. The 2012 and 2015 West Region Coach of the Year, Sinn has guided the Tommies to conference regular-season and/or playoff championships in six consecutive seasons.

Junior Achiever
When junior forward Lauren Fischer scores nine points or more in games on her career, UST is 34-0. She has made 120 treys in 84 games.

Fischer converted 48 percent from 3-point range last season and is at 43.3 percent this season to rank in the top 12 nationally.

Run with Ren
Sophomore Lucia Renikoff recorded her career high with 17 points March 11 against Chicago. The Toms are 23-1 in games on her two-year career when she scores eight or more points.

Scoring Spree for Z
UST senior guard Gabby Zehrer scored a career-high 27 points -- 17 in the first quarter -- in a recent 20-point win over St. Mary's.

Zehrer ranks fourth in the MIAC in 3-point field goal shooting percentage at 38.8%. She recently shot 50% or higher from beyond the 3-point arc in four consecutive games. She averaged 15.4 ppg in five wins from Nov. 30-Dec. 12. She knocked down 13-of-24 treys during that span.

Zehrer missed the last 21 games last season with a season-ending injury. St. Thomas is 19-0 in games on her career when she scores 11 or more points.

St. Thomas ranks fourth in Division III in both free-throw shooting (77.8 percent), sixth in field-goal shooting (45.6), and 15th in 3-point proficiency (35.5). The Toms also rank sixth in scoring margin at plus 21.4.

UST sank 75 percent last winter at the foul line and 74 percent in 2014-15.

Besides two wins over No. 14-ranked Gustavus and a win over 21-win Bethel in a 20-0 run against MIAC foes, St. Thomas has a few impressive non-conference showings:

  • a 31-point road win at McDaniel (21-7 last season);
  • an 11-point home win over UW-Stevens Point (21-8 last winter);
  • an 11-point win over No. 7-ranked Hope (26-2 last season);
  • a four-point road victory over No. 24 Bluffton (9-3);
  • a 15-point road defeat of Luther;
  • On March 3-4, a 32-point win over UMAC Conference champ UW-Superior and 73-69 win over UAA Conference contender Chicago;
  • On March 10-11, sectional wins over Marymount and Whitman.

Scoring with Spaulding
Sophomore Hannah Spaulding leads the MIAC in field-goal shooting percentage at 67.1%.

Spaulding, who averages 7.5 points per game, has been a key role player coming off the bench this year for St. Thomas.

150-Win Club?

St. Thomas has recorded the most victories of any upper midwest NCAA women's basketball team over the last six seasons. The Tommies' 167-18 record under Ruth Sinn in that span (.900) includes a 120-9 mark against conference opponents; 30 postseason victories; and an 81-5 home record at Schoenecker Arena. That six-year run has produced four All-America players: Taylor Young (2011-12), Maggie Weiers (2014-15), Jenna Dockter (2014-15) and Kaitlin Langer (2015-16). St. Thomas has been ranked as high as No. 1 in one computer ranking and No. 2 in the Division III polls during that span and currently is No. 2/3.

MIAC Playoff Champs
In the 16-year history of the MIAC playoffs, St. Thomas has claimed seven championships, all in the last eight seasons, and has finished second three times.

Carleton has five titles, won between 2001 and 2008. Concordia and St. Benedict each have won twice, and Gustavus once.

20-Win Club
St. Thomas has secured its eighth consecutive 20-win season.

Poll Talk
The Tommies have been ranked in the top 25 for 57 consecutive polls by D3hoops.com. UST recently climbed to the No. 3 position in the WBCA/USA Today poll and moved up to No. 2 on the D3hoops.com Top 25 poll. It's also No. 3 in the Hero Sports D-III computer rankings.

In the MIAC Preseason Coaches' Poll, St. Thomas, Gustavus, St. Mary's and Concordia-Moorhead took the top four spots. Attempting to win its third consecutive championship, UST took all 11 outside No. 1 votes.

St. Thomas has won its last 82 games when it allows 65 or fewer points. Over the last seven seasons against conference opponents, the Toms are 119-2 when they score 65 or more points.

Postseason Success
This year's NCAA Tournament appearance is St. Thomas' 24th, all in the last 34 seasons, with an all-time NCAA playoff record of 50-23. The Toms have reached either the MIAC or NCAA postseason tournaments in 30 of the last 31 seasons.

Close Calls
The Toms went 6-2 last season in games decided by six or fewer points, and 4-0 two seasons back in games decided by eight or less.
This season, UST is 3-0 in games decided by six or less.

St. Thomas women's basketball has now won 19 or more games in 26 of the last 31 seasons. That includes a 70-31 postseason record in that 31-season span. From 1990-92, led by the 1991 NCAA champion team, Tommie women's hoops won 40 consecutive games, including the first 27 contests of 1991-92.

St. Thomas has played in five Final Fours, with a 1-4 record on Fridays and a 5-0 record on Saturdays.

St. Thomas has won 16 MIAC regular-season championships in women's hoops -- the most by a conference institution. Its seven playoff crowns are also the most in the MIAC.

Title Chase
St. Thomas won either the regular-season or playoff title in the MIAC in each of the last eight seasons:
•won the MIAC playoff title as the No. 5 seed in 2009-10;
•won the 2011-12 crown as the top seed;
•claimed the 2012-13 playoff championship at the No. 2 seed;
•secured the 2013-14 playoff championship against St. Mary's as the third seed;
•won the conference regular-season championships in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
•swept both MIAC titles in each of the last three seasons.

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