The St. Thomas women’s basketball team advanced to the third round of the NCAA Division III playoffs last season, and it caught some observers off guard.
“We surprised ourselves by reaching the Sweet 16,” Tommies center Kaitlin Langer said. “We were so young and so new to the scene. I don’t think that was expected by anyone.”
The Tommies began last season having graduated seven of their top 10 players from the 2014-15 squad.
The Tommies’ success this season hasn’t come as a surprise.
With four returning starters from last season’s 26-4 squad, the unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Tommies (31-0) have reached the Final Four.
The Tommies will face No. 4-ranked Tufts (Mass.) (29-2) in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Friday in Grand Rapids, Mich. Amherst (Mass.) and Christopher Newport (Va.) meet in the other semifinal at 6:30 p.m.
The title game is 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We definitely expected [success] this season,” Langer said.
Langer, a 6-3 senior, is a big reason behind the Tommies’ success the past two seasons. The Hill-Murray High School product spent her first two seasons with the Tommies as a reserve.
But she moved into the starting lineup at the beginning of last season. Since then, St. Thomas is 57-4.
Last season she averaged 17.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and was named the MIAC and West Region Player of the Year and was a first-team All-America.
This season, she is averaging 19.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game (in just 27 minutes per game) and has repeated as MIAC and West Region Player of the Year.
She has scored in double figures in 44 consecutive games and in 11 career postseason games is averaging 20 points and nine rebounds per game.
Last Saturday, she had 18 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in St. Thomas’ 65-48 quarterfinal victory over Whitman (Wash).
“It’s a testament to the program,” said Langer about the past two seasons. “We get a lot of attention from the coaches and constantly are looking to improve.”
Langer said the Tommies’ experience of two seasons ago — they were unbeaten until losing in to Thomas More in a regional final — has helped this season.
“We want to make sure we don’t get caught up in the ‘unbeaten’ talk,” Langer said.
“You never know when your last game will be. At this point of the season, it could come any time. We’ve stayed focused.”