No, clearly we're talking about the women who, after finishing 1st or 2nd in the MIAC 17 times in 21 years, have done so in just one of the past 7 years. Still, after a pair of losing seasons in 2004-05 and 2005-06 (only the 2nd and 3rd in the program's history), the Tommies have a respectable 65-25 record the past 3+ years with a conference title in 2007-08.
So, what do you mean, they're back? Have they been away?
Well, yes, they've been away, compared to what's going to happen next.
By which I mean to reference the fact that they're playing some damn good basketball now that the MIAC and D3 seasons are heading into the stretch run. The evidence includes a complete thrashing of Bethel last night at the Tommies' temporary home, Gangelhoff Arena, 74-57, in a game that wasn't that close. That was the Tommies' 7th straight win by an average of 21 points, including revenge wins over Macalester and St. Cate's.
But not only that. Next year, and beyond, the sky's the limit.
Last fall I picked the St. Thomas women to win the MIAC title, largely due to Rachel Booth's transferring in from D2 St. Cloud State, where she was the NSIC tournament MVP last March. An all-star in D2 ought to be a superstar at D3, I thought. Well, maybe, but not necessarily right away. It took the Tommies awhile to get themselves organized, by which time they'd started out the conference season with a disappointing 3-3 and, then 5-4, and, then, 7-5 record.
Part of the problem was the lack of a home court this year. Schoenecker Arena has been razed to make way for the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center. So, home games were split between Concordia and Macalester. On January 2, St. Thomas lost a road game at Macalester 60-41. In January 30, they won a home game at Macalester 76-75. After starting 2-3 at "home," the Tommies have now won 5 straight.
The bottom line is that Coach Ruth Sinn has Booth and company looking like a well-oiled machine at the appointed hour.
St. Thomas 74 Bethel 57
Last night, for example, the Tommies jumped out to a 6-0 lead as Becky Theisen contributed 4 points and 2 offensive rebounds. She had her 4th offensive board and her 1st steal by the 17:00 mark, but Bethel soon had tied it up at 7. It was still 15-13 at 10:54 when the Tommies made their next move, a 9-0 run that extended the lead into double figures for the 1st time at 24-13. Ali Johnson had a 3 and a pair of assists during this run. Then, with the score 31-22, the Tommies scored the last 8 points of the half as Johnson contributed another 3, 2 assists, a rebound and a block.
In the second half, Bethel got as close as 13 before a 22-11 run made it St. Thomas 65 Bethel 41. Johnson scored the 1st 6 of those 22 points on a pair of 3s, and the rout was on.
Booth contributed 14 points, plus 6 rebounds and 6 blocked shots, and I think it's fair to say that she is nicely integrated into the whole scheme of things. She passed up shots to look to kick the ball out to her teammates on the outside. A reasonable person (such as myself) could say that she should have shot the ball more often than the 10 times that she did. (She made 5-of-10 shots, pretty much in line with her season's percentage of .517, but with less than her usual output of 6-and-a-half field goals made out of 13 shots per game.) She already owned the Tommies' season record with 63 blocks before last night, and she leads the team with 16 points and 9 rebounds per game.
Has she lived up to my designation of her as the MIAC pre-season player of the year? Probably not. I would now go with Ann Baltzer, who has been a tower of strength for the surprising Macalester Lady Scots with 16 points and 7 boards per game. Even among her own teammates, Booth is more of a "first among equals" type of contributor. Johnson, Jordyn Sears and Theisen are a formidable trio of perimeter players. Johnson is the 3 point bomber with almost half of her team's 3s so far this year. Sears is the assist leader while Theisen, statistically, just does a little bit of everything. Last night it was hitting the offensive board.
And everybody will be back next year for St. Thomas except reserve post Andi Olson, who scores 3 points per game. Forwards Johnson and Jazmin Townsend are a sophomore and a junior, respectively, and so are guards Sears and Theisen a sophomore and a junior, respectively.
Then comes word of 2 new recruits who are rumored to be joining the Tommies next year: Maggie Weiers, a big, strong, 6-3 post from New Prague, and Taylor Young, a 6-0 guard who recently set the Edina career scoring record. Like Booth, these are girls who surely can play D2 ball and, like Booth, they are girls who surely will excel at D3. I would have thought that both would be going D1--Weiers is every bit the player, for example, that her teammate Hannah Strop is, and Strop is going to D1 South Dakota State.
Either one of these two players dropping down to D3 would be a coup for any program. But both of them? More MIAC titles would seem achievable. And national prominence, such as was enjoyed during the Ted Riverso era--4 D2 Final Fours and a national championship in 1991? I'd say yes.
But first, there's work to be done yet this year. An MIAC regular season title seems out of reach right now. But nobody is going to be happy to be playing the Tommies in the post-season tournament. The way they're playing now--and the way the other leaders have slipped up from time to time--the Tommies could even be termed the favorite. If the playoffs started today, it looks like St. Thomas would get Hamline at "home" and then, if victorious, a visit to arch-rival St. Ben's, where the Tommies already own a 66-65 win. If still kicking at that point, another road trip would be likely, this time to St. Peter and Gustavus, over whom the Tommies already have a 77-63 win.