Our Rich History: Sydney Moss and development of TM national championship women’s basketball

By Raymond G. Hebert, PhD
Thomas More University

The first of two parts. This is part of an occasional series on successful athletes who played at Thomas More.

The Thomas More College Women’s Basketball program had been steadily improving over the years with competitive teams in the late 1980s and the 1990s coached by Sharri Brumfield. Local talent, like Nancy West, Jamie Boehl, Kim Byron, Chris Long, Dawn Franzen, and later Kim Prewitt (with 22 points per game in 1993–1994) set the tone for the best season ever to that point in 1996–1997 when the Lady Saints finished the season with an 18-6 record and a berth in the Division III NCAA Tournament, for the first time.

Sydney Moss during the 2014–2015 basketball season. (Courtesy of the Thomas More University Athletics Department)

Following Coach Brumfield, it was Coach Brian Neal who took the team to another level, with players like Nicole Dickman, Chelsea Tolliver, Allison Long, and Katie Kees. According to Moreover, the Lady Saints “went undefeated in the regular season for the second time in four years and finished with a program record 30-1 record in 2009–2010 (first ever 30-win season)” (Moreover, Summer 2010, p. 36). Coach Neal’s success was noteworthy and soon after, he left Thomas More to become the head coach of the Division I Xavier University Woman’s Basketball team. For the Lady Saints, the new head coach would be Jeff Hans, who most recently had been a top assistant for Nancy Winstel at Northern Kentucky University. Few could imagine then, when just earning an NCAA Division III tournament bid was special, that Coach Hans, with team after team of talented local athletes, would bring the team into annual consideration for national championships, first in the NCAA Division III and later in the NAIA.

Coach Hans’ early teams were led by Allison Long in 2012–2013, when she was recognized with Academic All-American Honors (Second Team). A loss to St. Vincent College that year was followed by the arrival of Sydney Moss, whose Thomas More years were marked by three consecutive unbeaten regular seasons “with a Division III best 57 game win streak, 81 game regular season streak in the President’s Athletic Conference, defending national champions,” and her “seeking a repeat as Division III national player of the year, a likely result for Sydney Moss in her final season” (Marc Hardin, “Senior Night Capper for TMC”, Cincinnati Enquirer, February 20, 2016, p. C4).

So, who was Sydney Moss and how did she get to Thomas More College? Back in her days at Boone County High School, Moss was named Kentucky’s “Miss Basketball” for the 2011–2012 season after leading her high school team to the Sweet 16, where they were defeated in the first round. They had reached the quarterfinals earlier in 2010. She then played for one year for the University of Florida, where she was selected in 2013 as a member of the All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) Freshman Team. This followed her having been named to the National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) All Tournament Team. That year, “she played in all 37 of the Gators’ games, including 24 starts. Moss led the team in assists (143), and was second in scoring (11.8 ppg), rebounding (6.8 rpg), and steals (52)” (Cincinnati.com/Enquirer, 08/18/2020 -basketball star-sydney-moss).

Thomas More President David Armstrong (2013–2018) and Joseph Onderko, Commissioner of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference presenting Sydney Moss with the 2015 PAC Player of the Year Award. (Courtesy of the Thomas More University Athletic Department) 

Soon after, for self-declared family reasons, she returned to Boone County where, according to reports, she met a high school teammate who was playing for the Lady Saints, pleased with the limited pressure connected to Division III basketball and proud of the team’s success. Sydney came to the Thomas More campus to meet with Coach Hans and was soon welcomed to the team as #40.

Moss’s sophomore year (2013–2014) was remarkable as she led the nation in scoring at 27.8 points per game, tying the NCAA Division III single-season scoring record with 891 points, as she also broke the NCAA Division III single-game scoring record with 63 points in a semifinal game of the PAC Tournament. Her individual statistics were all lofty, including a nationally ranked field goal percentage of over 60% and top-ten ranking in assist-to-turnover ratio, steals per game, assists per game, and rebounds. She recorded an impressive 15 double-doubles despite only playing in 26 minutes average per game and, on one eye-opening occasion “missed recording a triple-double by one assist as she had 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists in 22 minutes of action against Westminster College on February 14, 2014. (Thomas More University Woman’s Basketball Website – “40 Sydney Moss”).

Her senior highlights (2015–2016) were even more impressive, resulting in her being named the Honda D III Athlete of the Year Award recipient by the Collegiate Women Sports Awards (CWSA) as she won all three Division III National Player of the Year Awards: WBCA Player of the Year, D3 Hoops.com Player of the Year, and Women’s DIII News Player of the Year, while being named a first team All-American by all three organizations, as Thomas More College again won the National DIII Women’s Basketball Championship (Statistics from TMU Athletics website, provided by Michael Pagano, Co-Sports Information Director). It was during her senior year, on December 15, 2015, that Moss “became the all-time leading scorer in Thomas More College women’s basketball history.”

Remarkably, by the end of that game, “Moss had increased her total to 1,708 points in just 66 games wearing the Royal Blue and White. She broke the previous mark of 1,706, which was held by Amy Burk, who played from 1995–1999” (“Sydney Moss becomes leading scorer,” NCAA.com, 12-15/2015, 3/5).

Noticeably, nothing has been mentioned here of the 2014–2015 year and that year’s national championship run, after an end-of-season injury for Moss from the previous spring. A complaint had been filed to the NCAA that Moss had received “an impermissible benefit while injured.” As explained in an article by Ricky O’Donnell entitled “D3 team has to vacate a title because Randy Moss’s daughter stayed with a coach and his family while recovering from an injury.” According to O’Donnell, later in the article, the “NCAA has stripped Thomas More College of its 2014–2015 (and Moss of her records for that year) because Moss was living with an assistant coach and his family for free while rehabbing an injured knee.”

Sydney Moss during the 2015–2016 basketball season. (Courtesy of the Thomas More University Athletics Department.)

What was not taken into account was that Moss had known the assistant coach since her playing days as a youth and that Moss’s apartment had stairs that were difficult to navigate compared to the coach’s. Nevertheless, the result was that “the team was forced to vacate all 33 wins (of an undefeated season in addition to its title” (Ricky O’Donnell, “D3 team has to vacate a title because Randy Moss’s daughter stayed with a coach while recovering from injury,” SBNation.com, November 17, 2016). In response, Sydney Moss said “The NCAA can take what they want but the memories and friendships will last a lifetime.”

As noted above, Moss by then had gone on to have an even greater 2015–2016 season, for which she was eligible, and Thomas More was able to again retain that title. Appropriately, in the fall after that historic season, just one year from her becoming the leading scorer in Thomas More history (12/15/2015), it was on December 17, 2016 that Thomas More retired Sydney Moss’s jersey (#40). On that occasion, consistent with the Hall of Fame biographical sketch it was said:

Moss was a three-time first team All-American and national Player of the Year selection during her three seasons at Thomas More, while guiding Thomas More to two national championships on the hardwood. She scored 1,511 career points as a Saint as she shot 56 percent (583 of 1,041) from the field. Moss also had 476 rebounds, 266 assists, and 136 steals during her time in Crestview Hills. She set the NCAA Division III women’s single-game scoring mark on February 28, 2014, when she scored 63 points against Waynesburg University in a President’s Athletic Conference (PAC) Tournament semifinal game. Moss tied the NCAA Division III single season scoring record during the 2013–2014 season as she scored 891 points.

Not surprisingly, Moss was most proud that her presence on the team/success played a role in attracting other local talented players to Thomas More. While there was a second-round defeat in 2016–2017 and a semifinal loss in 2017–2018, after Sydney was gone, teammates from the 2015–2016 national championship team had outstanding years. Abby Owens was a WBCA First Team All-American in the latter of those two years and Madison Temple was honored as a D3 hoops.com First Team All-American in that same year. As will be seen in the next article, Madison Temple will be the next difference maker in Part II of the National Championship tradition.

As for Sydney Moss, after returning to Thomas More as Coach Jeff Hans’ assistant coach for two years (and St. Thomas University in Florida and the University of Charleston for short stints before that) she moved to Wilmington College as an assistant coach for 2022–2023 and has just been announced as the next head women’s basketball coach there after a national search. Noting in the press release that Moss would be the “sixth head women’s basketball coach” for the Wilmington Quakers, Moss is quoted as saying that she is thankful to be back in Division III because she “wholeheartedly believes in the work-life balance that is offered at this level.”

Sydney Moss returns to coach for the Thomas More Women’s Basketball Team. She coached at TMU from 2020–2022. (Courtesy of the Thomas More University Athletics Department) 

That is why Sydney Moss came to Thomas More College in the first place and why she will assuredly succeed at Wilmington College. She was certainly a difference maker for the Lady Saints (Wilmington College Press Release, posted May 30, 2023, Andy Furman, “TMU Basketball assistant Sydney Moss accepts coaching position at Wilmington College” about Moss’s original move to Wilmington in July 2022, July 12,2022, NKyTribune).

Dr. Raymond G. Hebert is Professor of History and Executive Director of the William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Liberty at Thomas More University. He is the leading author of Thomas More University at 100: Purpose, People, and Pathways to Student Success (2023). The book can be purchased by contacting the Thomas More University Bookstore at 859-344-3335. Dr. Hebert 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 at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

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