The St. Thomas women's basketball team hosts a Power Five opponent for the first time Wednesday since transitioning to Division I, so it's the perfect opportunity to see how far the program has come.
No Tommies player has improved more from last season than sophomore Amber Scalia.
The former Stillwater star has seen her scoring jump from 4.7 to 18 points per game to lead St. Thomas (3-3) entering the big matchup against Iowa State (2-3) at Schoenecker Arena.
"I think it all goes back to my teammates and coaches," Scalia said. "They give me that confidence in practice. It just gives me the confidence to shoot the ball in the game and not be afraid."
Fans who showed up to St. Thomas' open practice in October probably saw Scalia easily win the team's three-point shootout. She's been known as an elite shooter since playing for the Ponies years ago with her older sister Sara, a standout for the Gophers and now Indiana. Sara is averaging 18.7 points per game for the Hoosiers this season.
There was a big difference in Amber's role as a freshman. She played 15 minutes a game off the bench behind then-senior Maggie Negaard, who led the team with nearly 13 points per game.
Sharing Scalia's new leadership position in the backcourt has been junior point guard Jade Hill, who averages 15.5 points and a team-high 4.3 assists.
"It's tough to fill Maggie Negaard's shoes because she was a great player and a great leader," Scalia said. "I think it's been really fun getting into the groove with Jade. We're so good together. It's fun knowing we're able to work off each other."
The Tommies went 13-17 last season under longtime coach Ruth Sinn, but they built momentum, winning five of their last seven games. No matter what happens Wednesday against Iowa State, Scalia is an example the program is going in the right direction with player development.
"Freshman year is always tough for everybody," Scalia said. "In the offseason, I put in the work with the coaches. I knew it would pay off. I think this is a cool experience to play a Power Five team at home — an exciting opportunity to grow and learn."