GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Of the final four teams battling this weekend for the NCAA III women's basketball national championship at Calvin's Van Noord Arena, two have not lost this season, a third has not lost in 2015 and the other has not lost in more than two months.
Top-ranked Thomas More and No. 3 George Fox are undefeated (31-0) entering Friday's scheduled semifinals, while No. 5 Tufts (30-1), which is scheduled to play Thomas More at 5 p.m. ET Friday, suffered its lone loss of the season on Dec. 28 when it fell by 10 points to Scranton. Seventh-ranked Montclair State (30-1), which is scheduled to take on George Fox at 7:30 p.m. Friday, lost by a single point to Richard Stockton on Jan. 14.“Rankings don't mean anything anymore because there are only two losses among the four teams left,” Thomas More head coach Jeff Hans said. “Three of the last five years we have been ranked No. 1 at some point,” yet the Saints will be making their first semifinals appearance.
Tufts, coached by Carla Berube, is making its second consecutive semifinals appearance. “We're excited,” Berube said early this week, “because you are going to see the best of the best this time of year.”
Thomas More is led by 5-foot-10 junior Sydney Moss, a transfer from Florida who last year won all three Division III National Player of the Year awards, so Tufts, which considers itself a “defense-first team,” will be severely tested. “We've got talent, everyone knows about Sydney, she's very good, but we also brought in a lot of other good players,” Hans said. “The talent is definitely there, but the chemistry is there too. Everyone has come together and that brought us the opportunity to play this weekend.”
While Moss has averaged 24.4 points per game this season, the Tufts defense has allowed an average of 46.7 points per game this year. “We're an experienced team with great leadership from [seniors] Kelsey Morehead, Hannah Foley and Hayley Kanner,” Berube noted. “We are a defense-first team, which puts you in every game. You can always rest on that if your offense is not at its best.”George Fox, which is coached by Michael Meek, won the 2009 national championship and is making its third appearance in the semis, while head coach Karin Harvey's Montclair State Red Hawks are making their first visit to the semis after losing in the national quarterfinals a year ago. George Fox's Bruins will have been in West Michigan for more than a week when Friday's semifinals tip off as they defeated the host Knights of Calvin in last Saturday's quarterfinals.
George Fox has been led this season and throughout the tournament by senior guard Jami Morris, who is the most prolific 3-point shooter in the school's history, and junior forward Justine Benner. “Montclair State is 30-1 and they have very good, athletic players inside and they get athletic guard play as well,” Meek said. “There will be four really good teams here so it should be a good tournament.”
Seniors Melissa Tobie and Janitza Aquino have provided Montclair State its leadership this season, but the Red Hawks' depth could become evident if they are able to run like they want to. “We have great leadership. Our senior captains have don a phenomenal job leading this team,” Harvey said. “We have really good depth, though. We like to rebound, defense and get out and run.”
Friday's winners will square off for the national championship at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday.