Dynamic duo drove Wash U juggernaut

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Tasha Rodgers was a first team selection to our All-Decade team in 2007 and that selection still holds up today.

By Gordon Mann

In the first two parts of our series we’ve made the case that Sydney Moss’ junior campaign was the single greatest season by a Division III women’s basketball player ever.

If you wanted to make the case that someone had a better season, you’d have to go outside the statistics to make your case. It might go something like this:

As great as Moss was, she didn’t have to be spectacular every night during the regular season because Thomas More is so utterly dominant in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.  The Saints have lost just one game in the last five seasons and, on most nights, they aren’t challenged by their conference foes. Put the Saints in a tougher conference and maybe Moss’ numbers come down a little or the Saints pick up a loss and have to play a true road game in the NCAA tournament.

To be clear, this hypothetical argument is entirely my own creation. No one who talked to me about this piece has made this case. But it’s the best I can come up with to try to prove the opposite of what I believe is true.

If you want to argue that another player’s season was better than Moss' because it came against tougher competition in the regular season, then maybe you gravitate toward one of the elite seasons posted by the dynamic duo that played at Washington U.

Wash U players account for three of the eight elite seasons with Alia Fischer making the list twice. In 2000 she was WBCA Player of the Year, the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament and led the Bears to a national championship with a perfect 30-0 record. We didn’t name a Player of the Year in 2000, but we named her first team All-American. 

Her junior season in 1999 was nearly as good, with another WBCA Player of the Year award and another undefeated national championship season. The NCAA didn’t name a Tournament MOP in 1999 but Fischer was named to the All-Tournament team. We named Fischer second team All-American behind regular season scoring champion and Gallaudet all-time great Ronda Jo Miller.

Fischer currently has the distinction of being the only player to receive the WBCA Player of the Year award three times, though Moss could equal that feat with a stellar senior season. Fischer also has the distinction of playing with another all-time great player in Tasha Rodgers. As a senior in 2001 Rodgers won the WBCA Player of the Year award, was named Tournament MOP and led the Bears to their fourth consecutive national title.

When Fischer and Rodgers played together, the Bears were unstoppable. They rolled up an 88-2 record, two undefeated seasons and three national championships in those three seasons.

In comparison to Moss’ junior season, Fischer’s individual statistics weren’t as eye-popping.  Moss scored 26 percent of the Saints’ points, grabbed 17 percent of the rebounds and tallied 22 percent of the assists – a composite score of 65 percent. That’s the second highest composite score in our eight elite seasons behind Deanna Kyle’s 1985 season that we described in Part II.

In contrast Fischer “only” had 22 percent of the Bears’ points, 17 percent of the rebounds and 10 percent of the assists in 2000 for a composite score of 49 percent. Her 1999 season has the same composite score with more points and rebounds and fewer assists.

Fischer and Rodgers arguably played in a tougher conference than Moss does, though it’s hard to make statistical comparisons between the UAA in 1999 – 2001 and the Presidents Athletic Conference in 2015.  When the Bears won the national championships in 1999 and 2001, they had to get past at least one other national title contender in their own conference. NYU reached the national quarterfinals in both years and split the regular season series with the Bears in 2001. Plus the UAA travel schedule presents its own unique challenges with weekend road trips to Boston and New York, Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Atlanta and Rochester.

Fahey was the first Division III coach inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
Washington U. athletics file photo

There is someone who saw Fischer, Rodgers and Moss play first hand. In fact there’s someone who coached for or against all but two players on our elite list. Nancy Fahey has been on the Washington U. sidelines for 663 wins and five national championships, including that incredible run with Fischer and Rodgers.

When Fahey is asked how she found Fischer, the answer is that it happened the other way around. “She was on the internet and looking at top programs and we popped up on her screen,” says Fahey. “She could’ve gone D1. Alia could go over her right or left shoulder” and score from the post.

Rodgers came to Washington U. in St. Louis because she was from nearby East St. Louis, Illinois and wanted to go college close to home. “Tasha became the outside threat who could hit from 15 [feet] and slash to the basket.” Individually Fischer and Rodgers were two of the best players in Division III women's basketball history.  Put them together, add a Hall of Fame coach and then add the depth of Wash U’s roster, and you had a juggernaut.  “Those two allowed other players to succeed. They were great, unselfish players,” recalls Fahey.

Washington U plays in the UAA, which is one of the toughest conferences in Division III. As a sign of its strength, UAA teams have gone 66-32 in the NCAA tournament since 2006, which is the third highest winning percentage among all conferences over that period. When Fahey is asked to compare the UAA in its current state to the conference when Fischer and Rodgers played, she says it’s all relative. “Now you have more little girls playing basketball and the talent is better distributed.”

Fahey knows about the depth and breadth of talent in youth basketball because she’s seen it first-hand. Last month she was the lead clinician for the 2015 USA Basketball Women's U16 National Team Trials. “The girls there are playing at a level that I have to remind myself how old they are.” Fahey notes. “They are so polite and coachable.”

Fahey also saw Sydney Moss first hand when Thomas More defeated the Bears 103-90 in the Sweet 16. Moss scored 37 points, including the Saints’ first 18 of the game and grabbed nine rebounds. So what did she think?

“Sydney's the type player where you had to see her live [to appreciate her]. Their coach [Jeff Hans] did a great job moving her to different spots on the floor,” Fahey says and then she gives Moss one of the high compliments that she gives Fischer and Rodgers. “She’s so unselfish. That’s what’s separates her.”

Given that Fahey would be on anyone's short list of the greatest Division III basketball coaches ever, let’s give her the last word on the question we’ve been exploring --  Which of the elite eight seasons was most impressive?

“It’s like asking parents which child do you love the most. If you got all the coaches in a room, they’d each love their player the most.”