St. Thomas University’s women’s basketball team didn’t come home from national championships in Niagara Falls with medals in hand.
But they did notch their first ever national victory and carved out a place for the team among the best in the country, head coach Fred Connors said.
“We put St. Thomas on the map nationally.”
The Tommies defeated both Niagara and Grand Prairie, the second-ranked team, at the tournament.
The 90-71 victory against Grand Prairie sent the Tommies to the bronze medal game on Saturday against Dawson College.
The last time the two teams met, in pre-season action, Dawson College beat the Tommies by 29 points.
This time, the Tommies held their own in their fourth game in three days against the country’s top teams, but it wasn’t quite enough. The Tommies lost 58-54 to Dawson College to finish the tournament in fourth place.
It was the team’s second appearance at the tournament in three years. The Tommies finished eighth at nationals in 2009.
“Down the stretch, we weren’t able to finish when we needed to. We came out on the wrong end but we’re still pretty proud of how the girls played.”
The game was close until the final minutes, with neither team able to keep a strong lead.
“Both teams were playing very, very tough defense. It was tight both ways. The biggest lead we had was four and the biggest lead they had was six. It went back and forth like that all game long.”
After a Dawson College timeout with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the
Blues would sink a three-pointer, giving them a lead on the Tommies that lasted for the rest of the game.
Kelly Debow had 16 points in the loss and was named a first-team tournament all-star, finishing second in tournament scoring. Ashley Bawn, who had five points in the loss, finished fifth in tournament scoring while team veteran Heather Atherton finished seventh in tournament scoring and second in rebounding.
The Tommies led all teams in scoring, sinking an average of 71.5 points per game.
“Both teams played their heart and soul out there. The one thing I asked them was to leave it all out on the floor … they did that for sure. I can’t be more proud of what they’ve done.”
Connors credits the team’s ability to be competitive to a focus on staying physical in practice and in league play. The Tommies will need to do the same thing next year if they want to be competitive again.
Playing at the national level was a good experience for the Tommies both on and off the court.
“We got a chance to sit on top of the Niagara Falls where our hotel is. The girls spent a lot of quality time together.”
With nationals behind them, Connors is now shifting his focus to next season.
“We’ll go back and we’ve got all the games on video. We’ll reassess what we’ve done.
“We feel after the results of this tournament we’re on the right track.”
The team will retain many of its core players next season, with only Atherton graduating.
Connors is also optimistic about the new Tommies who will join the squad next season.
“Right now, it’s looking like we’ve got a very solid recruiting class coming in.”
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