|Freshman Nikki Kiernan is one of several key contributors for Thomas More not named Sydney Moss.
Thomas More athletics photo
By Adam Turer
CRESTVIEW HILLS, Ky. – You may think you know everything you need to know about Thomas More because you know the Saints have a high-profile player who transferred from Division I and has a familiar last name. But here are a few things that need clearing up.
Thomas More misconception No. 1: The Saints are a one-woman team.
Yes, Sydney Moss is averaging 23.6 points per game to lead all of Division III. Yes, the Saints are a perfect 50-0 in games in which the University of Florida transfer has been able to start and finish since transferring back home.
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Yes, she is the focal point of the Saints offense and is averaging 41.5 points per game through the tournament’s first two rounds. But if opposing defenses were able to focus on shutting down Moss, she and the Saints would be far less successful. Her teammates are the reason why Thomas More is appearing in its second straight Sweet 16.
“Whenever I’m not making shots or I’m not open, they step up,” said Moss. “I feed off of them and they feed off of me.”
“Defenses can’t just concentrate on Syd,” said head coach Jeff Hans.
Thomas More misconception No. 2: The Saints’ depth is only a result of their ability to blow out opponents and most of the bench players’ minutes come during garbage time. This year’s squad, thanks to the additions of talented freshmen and transfers, is actually deeper than last year’s Elite Eight team. Freshmen Abby Owings and Nikki Kiernan and Lake Forest transfer Sam Cady give the Saints depth at every level.
“We’re deeper this year, especially in the post,” said Hans. “That has allowed us to play Sydney on the perimeter more this year and create mismatches on the perimeter. Nikki gives us a force inside and Abby gives us another shooter on the perimeter.”
Owings is averaging 16 points per game in the tournament, and is a fearless shooter, especially for a freshman. The fact that she, Moss, and senior Sydni Wainscott are capable of bringing the ball up the court puts additional pressure on opposing defenses.
The team’s recognition of its strength and its unselfishness has allowed the Saints to lead the nation in scoring margin and assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Even when Moss and Owings struggle from outside, the Saints find a way to attack offensively.
“We’re all confident in each other,” said junior forward Alexa Santamaria. “We all make plays for one another. Our inside game is strong and we know we have shooters we can kick it out to who will knock down shots.”
|Thomas More has celebrated on its home floor, but has never celebrated a trip to the Final Four, either home or away.
Thomas More athletics photo
Thomas More misconception No. 3: Home court advantage will pave the Saints’ path to the Final Four in Grand Rapids. This is the fourth time that the Saints have hosted the sectional tournament. They are still seeking the first Final Four berth in program history.
“If you double team me, you’re going to leave someone open, and we’ll knock down shots,” said Moss. “It helps a lot that my teammates have my back.”
“I think everybody looks at Syd as a one-woman show,” said Santamaria, “but if they try to double team her, she can split a trap or double team and she’ll find us when she’s in trouble.”
“We make the extra pass to find the open person to knock it down,” said senior Stephanie Krusling. “We know that if we need a score, Sydney will drive and either score or find an open teammate.”
Krusling and sophomore Olivia Huber have embraced their role as energy boosters off of the bench. The Saints don’t stand around and wait for a teammate to make a play. They deflect and steal passes on defense, and create their own transition offense.
“They come off the bench, and the energy that they bring and the pressure that they can apply to opponents, is a big part of our success,” said Hans of his bench players.
Knowing that they will play around 20 minutes per game in three to four minute bursts, the bench players have added to the Saints’ defensive intensity this season. That defensive spark may be the difference maker in 2015.
“We’re able to keep throwing bodies at people, knowing that we’re going to make one of those runs,” said Hans. “We’re not scoring as much, but we’re better defensively than we were at this time a year ago. We’re going to keep coming at you and wear you down as the game goes along.”
“We know that if we go in and create havoc on defense, it will create offense for everybody,” said Huber.
“We know that we can go hard for three minutes at a time and give that boost of energy,” added Krusling.
Thomas More misconception No. 5: a small school from Northern Kentucky will always be overshadowed by the D-I schools downstate and will not be able to stake their claim as national champions. Over the next two weeks, Moss and her supporting cast will have a chance to make this yet another misconception.
“I don’t really think we have a weakness,” said Kiernan.