Westmont College’s Kirsten Moore overcame several shortages this women’s basketball season to be named as the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table’s College Coach of the Year on Monday.
Injuries had left her short on players with a roster of eight — and just short in general, with an average height of 5-foot-5.
But Moore discovered much more than that in her Warriors after asking if they had “that ability, when things get hard, to keep at it and stay gritty and to push through when hard times come?”
The worst of times led to the best of times, with Westmont finishing the season with a win-loss record of 27-3 and a No. 1 NAIA National ranking.
Dealing with tough hands, after all, was nothing new for the Warriors’ long-time coach.
Her right hand was broken just before her senior season of high school basketball. She taught herself how to shoot with her left — and she did it well enough to get recruited to the University of Oregon, eventually becoming the captain of an NCAA Tournament team.
Moore faced even greater tragedy when her husband, Alex, died in surgery just months before the birth of their daughter Alexis in 2012. And yet, she girded herself well enough to coach Westmont to the NAIA National Women’s Basketball championship the following season.
The Athletic Round Table, which rewarded her that year with her second-straight Coach of the Year Award, made it a trifecta after this year’s Cinderella season.
“One of the things that I have the privilege to do as a coach is pass on life skills to my players,” Moore said. “That, for me, is a lot more important than teaching them to shoot a jump shot or whatever.
“I’ve had a lot of adversity in my life, and I think the things I learned through that, and the things that have gotten me through it, I can teach these young women. They’re going to be prepared for what life throws at them in the rest of their lives after they leave Westmont.”
Moore, who’s compiled a win-loss record of 355-122 (.744) during her 15 years as Westmont’s coach, led the Warriors to an unprecedented fifth-straight Golden State Athletic Conference championship this season. They were informed of their No. 1 seeding for the NAIA National Tournament on March 11, only to learn the next day of the event’s cancellation because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we are all still grieving the loss of opportunity,” Moore said. “Not many people will know all the behind the scenes work and heartache that went into the growth that this team experienced this year.
“They had to fight for it every day. They had to fight for it emotionally, they had to fight for it physically, they had to fight for it spiritually and they so much deserved to finish the year ranked where they did.”
Only two other college coaches have won the Athletic Round Table Award more than Moore during its 52 years of presentation: six-time winner Gregg Wilson (UCSB swimming in 1979, 1985, 1993, 2001, 2006 and 2008), and four-time winner Chet Kammerer (Westmont men’s basketball in 1978, 1984, 1990 and 1991).
“Kirsten’s ability to get her teams to embrace a team concept is quite remarkable, but the way this team battled was incredible,” Westmont athletic director Dave Odell said. “Their toughness will always be what I remember them for.
“Coach has a way of transplanting her own heart into her players and they respond to the love and care she demonstrates toward them.”
Their roster was reduced to eight players after 6-foot Sydney Brown, their No. 2 scorer from the previous year and one of only three post players on the team, suffered a major knee injury before the season opener. The Warriors were promptly thrashed by Claremont-McKenna, 58-39.
“I remember telling our team afterwards that we had a big choice to make on where we go from there,” Moore continued. “We could feel sorry for ourselves. If we want to make excuses, we have all the excuses for why we are not going to win or be successful.
“However, we also have a different choice we can make, which is that we are not going to be victims and we are going to fight for everything we can – to figure out how we can do things differently to find a way to be successful.”
The turnaround came during the third week of November during Westmont’s own Best Western Plus/Carpinteria Inn Classic. The Warriors knocked off both No. 6 Our Lady of the Lake (Texas) and No. 10 Antelope Valley. They followed that up the next week during a tournament in Tennessee by beating No. 11 Shawnee State before losing by just three points to No. 2 Campbellsville.
“It was then that this belief was born that adversity was not going to hold us back from having a chance to win a national championship,” Moore said.
Their epic journey ended in the GSAC championship game on March 7 when they beat No. 4 The Masters 76-67. The NAIA National Championship Tournament was cancelled just five days later.
“Our coaches had such a great game plan and we trusted them,” said Maud Ranger, the team’s lone senior. “I am so glad that was our last game. We played as if we knew it was our last game and gave everything we had.”
Ranger was selected as a third-team NAIA All-American. Two sophomore guards were also honored by the NAIA: Iyree Jarrett on the first team and Stefanie Berberabe on the honorable mention list. All on the team except Ranger will be back at Westmont next season.
“What made this team really special was what we went through together from day one,” Ranger said. “The injuries and the off-the-court situations brought us closer. Right away, we shared this bond that was so much bigger than what happens on the court.
“That made us really special.”email: firstname.lastname@example.org