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Our Rich History: Women’s basketball at Thomas More — a thrilling ride to national prominence

By Dr. Raymond Hebert
Thomas More University
Part 64 of our series “Retrospect and Vista II”: Thomas More College/University, 1971-2021

In 1982 well-known Kentucky Post sportswriter Terry Boehmker said of the newly-created Thomas More College women’s basketball team that “it had been the best kept secret in Northern Kentucky sports.” That could well have been because, as he adds in the article, “during their first eight seasons, they played with a lineup that consisted mostly of women who had little or no high school playing experience. With no funding from the college and no home gymnasium to play or practice in, they could never afford to play more than a handful of games” (Terry Boehmker, Kentucky Post, early November 1982, TMU Archives). He might have added that the first coach, David Manning, was primarily a full-time Computer Science Professor. The college was aware that Title IX would be changing the culture of intercollegiate sports but was unable to handle the financial implications in the early years.

Dave Manning and 1978–1979 team. (TMU Archives)

A secondary point that Terry Boehmker was making was how that year (1982–1983) would be different, according to Coach David Manning, because for the first time he would have “a budget from the college athletic department, an assistant coach, a full 18-game schedule and a roster of players who all have previous playing experience” (Boehmker). Included among those players would be “eight talented freshmen … all from local high schools.” Coach Manning added, in a realistic assessment of the challenge he faced that, “most of our freshmen are on academic scholarships so we can’t practice more than three nights a week. We can’t take them away from their studies any more than that. But they all take it real serious when they’re in there” (Boehmker). After Coach Manning, it was more common as should have been expected, for the players to have had high school playing experience and the next coach, Flora Fields, had high school experience as well.

While things did improve in the early 1980s, winning games was not common, with not a single winning season for over a decade. The institution’s commitment became more apparent and possible in the late 1980s with the hiring of Head Coach Sharri Brumfield in 1987. By year three, she was even able to speak positively about her experience and team depth. In her words, “1989–1990 is the first season that we feel complete—with a 12-woman roster, our own facility and a promising hard-working group of young ladies who believe they can win” (1989–1990 Pre-Season Media Guide, “The Lady Rebels at a glance …” TMU Archives).

Coach Brumfield singled out, among the squad of local talent, a junior college transfer, Nancy West; her one lone senior, Jamie Boehl, who had led the team in “almost every statistical category including 16.2 ppg with an impressive 54% FG% in the previous year, Michelle Parnell; and dominating at Power Forward would be Kim Byron who contributed “82 rebounds and 10 ppg per game.” “I anticipate her having a fantastic season,” said Coach Brumfield (1989–1990 Pre-Season Media Guide). That prophecy was significant because, for the first time, a Thomas More Women’s Basketball Team did not have a losing season that next year. As predicted, Kim Byron would have a great year (11.9 ppg and 9.5 rpg) but, the biggest surprise was Chris Long, named the team’s Most Valuable Player for “contributing the leadership and court savvy necessary to the success of the Blue Rebels” (Women’s Basketball Media Guide 1990–1991). Not long afterwards, with no more looking back, the focus in 1993–1994 was on Kim Prewitt, described in a Cincinnati Enquirer article by Ray Schafer as “the main reason for Thomas More’s success” that year with 22 points per game (#10 best in the country; with eight threes multiple times in a single game; and her “4.2 3-point shots per game as the nation’s best.” This was Thomas More’s first taste of national recognition, and it became contagious (Ray Schafer, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Sunday February 6, 1994, p. C12). In 1994–95, Dawn Franzen, a senior guard from Holy Cross, “was named the team’s Most Valuable Player” (“Thomas More Honors MVP’s Hughes and Franzen,” Kentucky Post, March 15, 1995).

Coach Flora Fields and 1986–1987 team. (TMU Archives)

Two years later (1996–1997), as a reward for the hard work of the coaches and players in the previous decade under Coach Brumfield, the “Lady Saints completed their best-ever season in the history of the TMC women’s basketball program to date with a regular season record of 18-6 and securing a berth in the Division III NCAA Tournament.” Finishing “eighth in the South Region” and just getting in, they then shocked all observers first by beating top seeded Roanoke College and then #4 Bridgewater College to get to the Sweet 16 (Chris Gramke, Community Recorder, March 6, 1997). The Cinderella story ended, however, with a defeat to a 24-3 Wisconsin-Eau Claire team, but the expectations would never be the same again after this timely taste of success. Life being what it can be with injuries and departures, there was a major disappointment the following year (1997–1998), just after the NCAA Division III decision to cut back the number of bids to six per region. Sadly, the “Thomas More men who finished 17-7 and women (16-7)” both failed to receive bids “to that year’s tournament” (Mark Schmetzer, “Draw not kind to NKU; worse to TMC teams,” Kentucky Enquirer, early March 1998).

With that late 1990s change in fortune as a foundation, once into the 21st century, the expectations would not only remain high but would be taken to another level in the Coach Brian Neal era, which began in 2004. In the summer of 2009, for example, Moreover magazine spoke of that season (2008–2009) for the Lady Saints as “their fourth straight 20-plus win season; their fourth straight PAC regular season title; their third straight PAC tournament win and their third straight appearance in the NCAA Division III National Tournament where they advanced to the ‘Sweet 16.’ They lost to No. 2-ranked Hope College” (Moreover, Summer 2009, p. 29). In 2009-2010, the Lady Saints ended the year 21-7 as the PAC runner-up but, with most of the players returning, were “ranked 18th nationally by D3 Hoops.com and 19th in the WBCA/ESPN/USA Today preseason D-III Poll, even receiving 17 of 20 first-place votes” (Moreover, Summer 2010, p. 36). At the end of that season, this time the high expectations were met as the Thomas More College women’s basketball team had its most successful season ever “as it went undefeated in the regular season for the second time in four years and finished with a program best 30-1 record” (first ever 30-win season). For the first time ever as well, in mid-January “they were named the No. 1 team in the nation … remaining No. 1 for six straight weeks as they finished the regular season.” The recognition that followed was unprecedented: Head Coach Brian Neal as PAC Coach of the Year, senior center Nicole Dickman from Notre Dame Academy and sophomore guard Chelsea Tolliver from Simon Kenton as First Team All-PAC; sophomore guard Allison Long as Second team All-PAC and sophomore center Katie Kees (Mother of Mercy, Cincinnati) as honorable mention All-PAC. Tolliver and Long were also Academic All District IV honorees with 4.0 overall GPAs.

Sharri Brumfield and 1990 team. (TMU Archives)

Not surprisingly, Coach Neal’s near-decade of success did not go unnoticed, and he was selected to be the Head Coach that summer (2011) of the Division I Xavier University Musketeers Women’s Basketball Program. Fortunately, TMC Athletic Director Terry Connor announced that Northern Kentucky University’s top assistant (on Nancy Winstel’s women’s successful basketball staff) would become the new women’s basketball head coach at Thomas More College. His name was Jeff Hans. Prophetically, AD Connor said: “with his success as a head coach at the high school level (St. Henry and Lexington Catholic) and as an assistant at the collegiate level (Indiana State; Wilmington College, NKU) we believe he will build upon the success that the women’s basketball program has reached” (Moreover, Summer 2011, p. 24). Few could imagine then, after the laudable records of the Coach Neal era, that Coach Hans — with team after team of talented local athletes — would eclipse even those successes.

It all began slowly in 2012–2013, if one can refer to a 27-2 overall record; 18-0 in the PAC; and a No. 6 ranking nationally and “entering the NCAA postseason with a 24-game winning streak” as slow. It is just that the post-season tournament results were not as positive as we had hoped with that talented team. One of the highlights of the year, however, “was senior-guard Allison Long’s selection to the 2012–2013 Capital One Academic All-America Division III Women’s Basketball Team (second team selection) … the first-ever TMC women’s basketball student athlete to earn academic All-America honors and only the second-ever female student athlete” (Moreover, Spring 2013, p.30).

Ironically, it was also in Coach Hans’ first year (2011-2012), on a cold January night in 2012, that Thomas More lost a road game against St. Vincent College, followed by a long six-hour ride home. The loss became an inspiration and would be followed by a remarkable and unprecedented win streak. Marc Hardin, Cincinnati Enquirer Sports Contributor, summarized it well several years later after the Lady Saints’ first National Championship when he reminded his readers that the 4th year of the Coach Hans era was their third consecutive unbeaten regular season (spring 2016) with: a Division III best 57 game win streak; 81 game regular-season streak in the PAC; defending national champions, “seeking a repeat with two-time Division III national player of the year Sydney Moss in her final season.” Hardin points out, in quoting talented center Nikki Kiernan, that all the success was with all local girls. She said: “most of us are from around here, and we like to win … it’s so much fun playing with talented girls you know” (Marc Hardin, “Senior Night Capper for TMC,” Cincinnati Enquirer, February 20, 2016, p. C4).

Coach Neal cuts down the net after defeating Westminster for the 2007 PAC championship. (TMU Archives)

As an aside, in the same article, and as a clear reflection of Coach Hans’ commitment to his players and the past: when asked about such an exalted and envied spot on the national women’s basketball scene, he said of this “saintly goodness — it’s a product of what Brian Neal [4-time PAC Coach of the Year] did … he got it going in the right direction and we’ve been able to continue it and make it our own.” Hardin added that a major part of the most recent success was the presence of Sydney Moss, “Thomas More’s all-time leading scorer and the Division III active leader (in 2016) with more than 2500 career points.” Humbly, when asked about her time at Thomas More, Sydney had said: “I’m really enjoying my time here. Hopefully, I helped a little bit with us getting good players.” For the record, Coach Hans reminded Marc Hardin of Moss’s successes featured in the article: “single game, single season and career team marks and multiple conference and national records, including the Division III single-game scoring mark of 63 points.” Moss averaged over 20 points per game that year but was helped by a multi-talented group including Nikki Kiernan (13.9 ppg); sophomore guard Abby Owings (14.8 ppg); and freshman guard Madison Temple (12.3 ppg). Senior bench spark Oliva Huber was among the steal leaders nationally and, most exciting and a point of pride, of the squad of 16, “10 players hailed from Northern Kentucky and six from other parts of Greater Cincinnati” (Hardin).

Sydney Moss wins 2016 National Player of the Year. (TMU Archives)

It was after the first national championship that this latter point was driven home, on the occasion of the celebration of the 2015 NCAA Division III national championship. David Armstrong was the TMC President that year and the self-proclaimed team’s #1 fan. In the article about the post-championship celebration (by the Enquirer’s Adam Turer), he said first: “this is what makes it so special here in Northern Kentucky, it’s really bringing the community together, and it’s wonderful.” He later added: “this is our first-ever national championship, and it couldn’t be done by a better group of coaches and young ladies … they’re phenomenal basketball players but the best part is they’re better people. That’s what we do here at Thomas More. It’s all about quality people. They are the best example Thoams More has to offer” (Adam Turer, “Thomas More women are the pride of NKY,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 2015). The 2015–2016 year ended with a National Championship win over Northeast power Amherst University 63-41 with Sydney Moss as the WBCA Division Player of the Year, the D3hoops.com Player of the Year and First Team All American for both the WBCA and D3hoops.com Abby Owings was a Fourth Team All American and Coach Hans, for the second year in a row, was the D3hoops.com Coach of the Year.

To many, the departure of Sydney Moss would likely lead to perhaps a slightly lesser pedestal while acknowledging that her coattails, as she had predicted, might keep the talent flowing—and of course there was still Coach Hans and a strong nucleus of younger players returning. Disappointedly, the 2016-2017 year ended with an NCAA Second Round defeat to perennial power Hope University but with Abby Ownings as a First Team All-American. In 2017-2018, the Lady Saints improved to the NCAA Semifinals before this time falling to Northeast rival Amherst, whom we had defeated in 2015-2016. Abby Owings was again recognized as a WBCA All American and, as Madison Temple’s first appearance in the national limelight, she was honored as a D3hoops.com First Team All American. The hard work and restructuring paid off more directly, though, in 2018–2019 when the tradition of Sydney Moss was maintained with another national championship with the Lady Saints, defeating Bowdoin University, the newest power from the Northeast, 81-67 in the final game, played in Roanoke, VA. Madison Temple, who reached her peak that year, was the WBCA Division III Player of the Year (and an All American), and Coach Hans was the D3hoops.com Coach of the Year for the third time. The team’s final record was 33-0, the most wins ever in a single season.

Coach Hans with 2022 team. (TMU Archives)

With the 2019–2020 year bringing with it an uncertain future because of the jump from Division III to the NAIA, it was not entirely surprising that our record was only 23-10 in that transition year with a conference record of 9-7 in the Mid-South Conference (MSC). To the skeptics, there may have been a concern about the Lady Saints ever reaching their previous lofty heights again, but that would mean underestimating Coach Jeff Hans and the local girls he continued to mold into teams with a will to win. In 2020–2021, during the pandemic, the team record improved to 29-2 (17-1 in the MSC and a climb to the National Championship game where, after a debilitating injury to our leading scorer, we were defeated by Westmont University 72-61. While Emily Schulz had earned Honorable Mention All American status the previous year, Zoie Barth was a First Team NAIA All American and WBCA NAIA All American for 2021. Buoyed by this close call, in 2021–2022 the Lady Saints again rose to the challenge, bringing home one more national championship, this time at the NAIA level, defeating Dordt University in their Iowa backyard 77-65. Taylor Clos was the player honored as an Honorable Mention All-American on a team with balanced scoring all year, and Coach Hans won his fourth National Coach of the Year Award, this time at the NAIA level.

What is most impressive is that, once the Thomas More Women’s Basketball Program moved into a positive direction under Coach Sharri Brumfield in the 1980s and the 1990s, the successes escalated next under Brian Neal and most recently, under Coach Jeff Hans. Coach Brumfield’s 14 season record was 186-166 but 127-68 in her final eight years; Coach Neal, in his seven seasons, was 171-31 for an excellent .847 pct and Coach Hans, incredibly, to this point in 2022 is 291-27 for a staggering .915 pct. (Statistical information throughout provided by Michael Pagano, the Thomas More University Sports Information Director September 15, 2022). It is noteworthy that, of all of Thomas More’s 20+ intercollegiate sports programs, Women’s Basketball has earned its reputation as the flagship program, with Coach Jeff Hans as one of the most successful coaches in the country, percentagewise, with 300 or more games, regardless of the sport. This has been an incentive for other coaches and this past year, the national success was matched by Thomas More’s Rugby team with its NCR National Championship in 2021. Not to be forgotten, earlier as well, had been Lynn Thompson’s individual D3 Women’s Golf National Championship in 2002.

Thomas More University Sports Hall of Fame Members: Women’s Basketball

• 1976–1986
Maureen Grosser – 1976
Rosemary Scheper Mullen – 1980
Susan Lalley Mairose – 1985
Jane Scheper Grosser – 1985
Kristi Flynn Snyder – 1986

• 1987–1999
Brenda Simon-Niekaus – 1987
Kim Byron Custenborder – 1992
Kim Prewitt – 1996
Sherry Clinkenbeard Smith – 1998
Dr. Shannon Galbraith-Kent – 1998
Amy Burk Lawson – 1999

2019 National Championship NCAA Division III. (TMU Archives)

• 2000–2010
Bridget New Ison – 2002
Holly Roberts – 2003
Joanna Bess – 2004
Brooke Warner – 2007

• 2011–2022
Nicole Dickman Rice – 2011
Allison Long Butler – 2013
Sydney Moss – 2022

All Americans

Jayme Thiem
3rd Team

Allison Long
2nd Team

Sydney Moss
1st Team

Abby Owings
4th Team

Abby Owings
1st Team

Madison Temple
1st Team

Abby Owings
4th Team

Madison Temple
1st Team

Emily Schultz
Honorable Mention

Zoie Barth (NAIA)
1st Team

Taylor Clos (NAIA)
Honorable Mention

National Coach of the Year

Jeff Hans: 2013 D3hoops.com
2016 D3hoops.com
2019 D3hoops.com
2022 NAIA

Dr. Raymond G. Hebert is a Professor of History and Executive Director of the William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Liberty at Thomas More University. He has just completed his 46th year at Thomas More and, with that background, will now serve as the General Editor of the official history of Thomas More College/University from 1971-2021. With a projected title of RETROSPECT AND VISTA II, it will serve as the sequel to Sr. Irmina Saelinger’s RETROSPECT AND VISTA, the history of the first 50 years of Thomas More College (formerly Villa Madonna College). He can be contacted at hebertr@thomasmore.edu.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History and Gender Studies at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

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One Comment

  1. Edward says:

    A story needs to be done about TMs mens basketball team 50 years ago(1972) that beat Xavier University as the school’s lone Division One basketball victory to this day.

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