Gene's Blog: Time to get basketball on the brain
November 14, 2010
Rachel Booth is gearing up for a big senior season. (Mike Ekern photo)
A large spotlight has been shining on St. Thomas athletics in recent weeks and months.
The August opening of the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex captured everyone’s attention. The $52 million, 180,000-square foot facility has generated remarkable visibility and media stories, on and off campus.
Football won St. Thomas’ first MIAC championship in 20 seasons, has been ranked in the top five nationally all fall, and at 10-0 and is preparing to host a Nov. 20 NCAA playoff game.
Volleyball is showing off the facility to its widest audience yet as host to the eight-team NCAA Regional Tournament this weekend. Coach Thanh Pham’s team shared the MIAC title for the fourth season in a row, and is playing at home tonight as it shoots for a rare 30-win season in its quest to reach next week’s national tournament in St. Louis.
Fall has now transitioned into winter. The Tommie swimming teams have hosted their first competition in the new Anderson Pool and are three weeks into their competitive season. The UST men are ranked among the top 35 teams in Division III.
UST men’s hockey has already played five games under first-year head coach Jeff Boeser. The Tommie women’s team plays its first home game this afternoon in Mendota Heights at 2 p.m.
One sport that has fallen under the radar so far is about to get its splash of attention. Maybe it took a good snowfall to get us fully in the mood, but it’s time to talk Tommie women’s and men’s basketball.
Coach Ruth Sinn’s team gets the distinction of playing host to the first AARC basketball game in the new Schoenecker Arena. The Tommies face UW-Stevens Point this Monday at 7 p.m. It will be a fan appreciation night with no admission fee charged.
It’s also a Fanamaniac night with a free Tommie item distributed to the first UST students in line.
The No. 6-ranked Pointers return four starters and 11 letter winners from last season’s team that advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division III Tournament. UST returns eight of its top 11 players from an NCAA playoff team that finished 21-8.
The Tommie women have one of the region’s best players in senior center Rachel Booth, a Preseason All-American. Booth came up big in the last half of 2009-2010 to lead the Tommies into the NCAA playoffs for just the second time in nine seasons. She helped UST win 12 of its last 16 games as she averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and nearly five blocks over that 16-game span. Booth also was chosen All-MIAC and was a two-time conference Player of the Week honoree. She led the MIAC in blocks and rebounds and was also in the top five in points and field-goal percentage. She broke UST school records for blocked shots in a game (eight) and season (93).
Booth will be playing in her third different home venue in the last four college seasons. She played at St. Cloud State as a freshman and sophomore then played last winter’s UST home games at either Concordia University or Macalester .
“When I first saw the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex, I was in awe,” Booth said. “It made me wish that I was a freshman so I could experience four years in the beautiful new facility. Since this is not an option, we will have to make the most out of this year, always trying our hardest, in hopes of winning a national championship.”
Check back Sunday night for a preview story on the Tommie women’s team.
Sinn will have the rare distinction of playing or coaching in all three of UST’s home basketball venues over the last 30 seasons. She was a freshman player in 1980-81 in the final year at the old O’Shaughnessy Hall gym, then was a sophomore and played in the first game in Schoenecker Arena in November 1981.
Speaking of nostalgia, UST women’s hoops fans can hope for a connection to the St. Thomas football success. Do you recall what followed the last Tommie conference football championship in 1990? Four months later, the UST women’s team, led by a high-profile center (Laurie Trow), won the Division III national championship.
(No pressure, Ruth).
Check out this video
To jump start your passion for Tommie basketball, check out this clever YouTube video starring a favorite furry friend:
The No. 13-ranked Tommie men start their season in town on Tuesday as they face Concordia University at 7:30 p.m. One positive about playing a road game against a Division II team is that UST is familiar with the CU arena -- it played at least 10 games there over the last two seasons.
St. Thomas coach Steve Fritz starts his 31st season and returns three starters and 10 of his top 13 players from a 23-4 team that won the MIAC championship for the fifth consecutive season.
UST lost 89-69 last week in an exhibition game at Division II power Winona State. The Toms trailed only 38-35 at halftime, and Winona was coming off a 79-72 loss to the Gophers.
Senior All-American guard Tyler Nicolai is closing in on 1,000 career points. Fellow senior Alex Healy is also expected to be one of the MIAC’s top guards. The development of the inside game and depth is expected to be the key to St. Thomas’ season.
St. Thomas plays its first home game in the AARC Nov. 23 against Wisconsin-River Falls and has a marquee game Dec. 22 against defending national champion UW-Stevens Point.
FB Media blitz
Coach Glenn Caruso was the subject of an impressive print, photo and video montage on Nov. 5 by the Star Tribune: http://www.tommiesports.com/ftbl/news/Strib_11-6.html
How powerful is a story displayed so prominently in the state's largest newspaper and most-read website? In the days after it ran, the UST coach received more than 600 emails, calls and comments from alumni, fans and friends. (He’s responding to as many as his time allows.)
A Nov. 9 Star Tribune column that included the Tommies was followed that night by a KARE-11 TV video story on the 10 p.m. sports. KSTP channel 5 plans to air a story on Caruso’s team this Monday or Tuesday night (Nov. 15 or 16).
PHOTO: Glenn Caruso talks to the team (Mike Ekern photo)
On ESPN News at 2 p.m. Sunday, the Division III playoff field of 32 will be revealed. D3Football.com projects a UST home game against Benedictine (Ill). Other possible opponents include Coe (if it makes the field) or St. Norbert.
In just two weeks, the "Vote for Coach Caruso" button has produced 2,200-plus votes in the National Coach of the Year poll by Liberty Mutual. (It's the most votes accumulated by a Minnesotan in mid-November since Al Franken in 2008). Coach Caruso is now in sixth place among all D-III coaches. You can vote once a day here: http://www.coachoftheyear.com/#fbid=NZwe03jaIW8
It worked for Jesus
This week’s blog on small-town starting QBs, which included Tommie junior Dakota Tracy, was picked up by the NCAA News http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/ncaa/resources/latest+news/2010+news+stories/november/small+towns+lead+to+big+time+for+college+qbs
The story also ran Friday on the MIAC website http://www.miac-online.org/ and College Sports Information Directors of America website www.cosida.com . More coverage could follow this week.
It goes to show that small towns still attract a big audience. Don't forget, Jesus Christ was born in a small town.
Jesus was born in a small town? Sounds like a great idea for a T-shirt, or a country and western song. If there are any UST student entrepreneur majors who want to go into business with me marketing that concept, have your people call my people.