Trail blazing Tommies: St. Thomas women's basketball heads to first Summit League Tournament

Ruth Sinn remembers leading the St. Thomas women’s basketball team to its first NCAA Tournament as a player back in the early 1980s.

About four decades later, she’s making more history with the Tommies as a head coach. The University of St. Thomas women’s basketball team gets its first taste of Division I postseason play in school history on Friday. They’ll travel to Sioux Falls to face Western Illinois in the first round of the Summit League Tournament at the Sanford Premier Center.

"I remember what an incredible experience it was. Now to fast forward and I’m a coach here, it’s kind of surreal. I’m just very grateful to St. Thomas because I think we embody all the things that are great about athletics," Sinn said Tuesday from campus. "I’m just excited for my young ladies to get to experience postseason. It’s a testament to what they’ve created."

Two years ago, the Tommies made the unprecedented leap from Division III to Division I athletics. They took some expected lumps in Year 1, finishing 7-20 and 4-14 in the Summit League.

This year, they’ve improved to 12-16 and 7-11 in conference play. They’ve also won four of their last five heading into postseason play. It’s Sinn’s favorite time of year.

"March is the time that you want to play, so we’re excited to have this opportunity. I always talk to my team and my family about my favorite holiday, and my favorite holiday is March Madness," Sinn said.

This week is their March Madness. With the Tommies’ move to Division I, they are not eligible for the NCAA Tournament for another three seasons. They’re going to take advantage of every opportunity granted to them.

"The biggest thing is just maximizing what we have. We get postseason, this is our big tournament. We’re going to embrace this just like it is the NCAA Tournament because we get to be in postseason," Sinn said. "We’re going to maximize this experience."

Friday’s winner faces No. 1 seed South Dakota State on Saturday. The Tommies split with Western Illinois in the regular season, with the road team winning each time.

Win or lose, the Tommies are focused on building for the future, starting with building the foundation now.

"The difference between success and significance, these young ladies are significant, they’re the ones that in five, six years when we are doing that, that we’re going to come back to and say you laid the foundation here. You’re the ones that set this in motion," Sinn said. "They’ve embraced that they get to be program-changers, being these trail blazers and these pioneers."