The Little Women of Westmont stood tall on Tuesday in Sioux City, Iowa.
The guard line of Stefanie Berberabe, Iryee Jarrett and Lauren Tsuneishi combined for 60 points to lead the Warriors to a 72-61 victory over Thomas More, Ky. in the championship game of the NAIA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
“They don’t pass the eye test,” Westmont coach Kirsten Moore said. “You look at them and think, ‘Are they 5-feet? Or 5-2?’ Maybe 5-2 is a little generous, right?
“But they have this relentless spirit. They obviously have incredible talent, and they’ve worked hard on their skills. But I think the biggest thing that I’m proud of them for is just the heart that they play with. They just never give up, and they just continue to attack and go for it. They were just phenomenal.”
The Warriors (15-1) finish with 15 consecutive victories in a season that was stopped and restarted several times by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thomas More University (29-2), the top-seeded team in the tournament, played twice as many games as Westmont.
“Honestly, I’m so happy for these young women because of how hard they’ve worked to get to this point,” Moore said. “Just day-in and day-out, they’ve been willing to do the little things — whatever was in their control. And there were a lot of times when a lot of things were out of their control.
“Whatever it was at that moment that was in their control to do, we just made a commitment to do that whether that was sandbag workouts in the backyard or the basement, or when there were no tracks open and they were running with masks on asphalt up and down the street all summer.
“These girls just continued to put in the work so that if we had the opportunity to be ready, we’d be able to at our best, and I think that’s what you saw throughout this whole tournament.”
The Saints made 7-of-9 shots including four three-pointers to jump out to a 17-8 lead. Berberabe, who followed up Monday’s 26-point performance in the semifinals with 23 points on Tuesday, kept Westmont in the game by scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes. She won tournament MVP honors while Jarrett, who also scored 23 on Tuesday, joined her on the all-tournament first team.
Moore did have to call a timeout when the deficit reached 15-8.
“I said, ‘All right, we need to regroup, we need to focus on our defense, focus on our rebounding,’ and they did that,” she said. “From that timeout I took at basically the five-minute mark, the second five minutes we were able to get to within one possession by the end of the quarter.”
Tsuneishi started the comeback with a three-pointer. She made four threes in the game, as did Jarrett, to finish with 14 points and make the all-tournament second team.
Berberabe got Westmont even at 19-all by scoring off a steal. Gabriella Stoll tied it again at 22-all with a three, and then Jarrett gave them the lead for good with another long bomb. The back-to-back threes triggered a 12-0 run that put the Warriors ahead for good.
“Their ability to respond and get together and not get flustered, I think that’s the sign of a veteran team,” Moore said. “It was also the great leadership that I think we’ve had from Lauren Tsuneishi, primarily, as the four-year senior on our team.”
The Warriors led 34-28 by halftime and 46-41 by the end of the third period. Although they shot just 41.5% overall, they made 11-of-30 threes and outrebounded the Saints 42-36. Kaitlin Larson led Westmont with 13 rebounds while also getting four assists to share the team lead with Berberabe and Jarrett.
“It was different people at different times stepping up,” Moore said. “I’m so proud of them for just the relentless attack that they showed … Just like a fearless approach to the opportunity that was before them.”
The national championship was Westmont’s second. The first one came in 2013, less than a year after the unexpected death of Moore’s husband, Alex, and barely months after the birth of their daughter, Alexis.
It was difficult for Moore to compare the two titles.
“To be honest, the first time around, there were so many other emotions involved with it that it was really hard to grasp what was happening to enjoy the basketball aspect of it,” she said. “I just felt like there were bigger spiritual things happening that week with my team and with everything after having lost my husband..
“So for this year to be really able to focus on the basketball and with the emotions that come with actually winning a basketball game was pretty enjoyable — including tonight, rising to the occasion time and time again when we were challenged.”
She will be celebrating her birthday today in the oddest of fashions.
“I’m going to be sleeping on an airplane,” Moore said. “I don’t even know how long it’s been since I’ve slept. I didn’t sleep for a minute last night, preparing and getting a scouting report ready, and watching film, and trying to get the whole game plan together.
“I’ll probably sleep most of the way home, but really just enjoy my time with these ladies. Any time I get to spend with them, I’m super-grateful.”
MEN’S COLLEGE GOLF
Gauchos take third place
Brandon Bueno shot a 4-over par 220, tied for third place, as the UCSB men’s golf team also took third at the UC San Diego Invitational in Carlsbad.
As a team, UCSB finished with a +40, 904 and tied with UC Irvine for third. Utah State (+29, 893) took first followed by Southern Utah (+33, 897).
Bueno was the lone UCSB player to finish among the top 10. Ethan Barnes (9-over, 225) tied for 13th and Andrew Ricci (12-over, 228) tied for 17th.
ARROYO GRANDE 8, SANTA BARBARA 7
Wyatt Hastings had multiple hits and Jordan Harris hit his second home run in as many games in the Dons loss on Tuesday.
Santa Barbara (1-1) had a pair of fielding errors late that allowed Arroyo Grande to win the game. Juan Perez tossed four innings and allowed two runs. He also gave up five hits, had five strikeouts and issued three walks.
Sam Russell stole a pair of bases and Erick Elizalde reached base four times.
PREP BOYS TENNIS
SANTA YNEZ 14, BISHOP DIEGO 4
The Pirates went 9-0 in doubles for the second straight match to pick up their second win of the season.
Micah Thompson and Sean Montejano won their two sets 6-0, 6-2 before being subbed out. Ethan Guillemin and Jace Burnblad won three sets at No. 2 doubles.
For Bishop, Luke Williams won all three of his sets at No. 1 singles.
PREP GIRLS SOCCER
SANTA PAULA 4, CARPINTERIA 1
The Cardinals defeated the Warriors on Tuesday at Carpinteria High.
Sophomore Ashley Verduzco scored the lone goal for the hosts early in the second half.
News-Press Associate Editor Mitchell White contributed to this report.