By Caitlin Graveson '11
Saint Mary's women's basketball had one of its best seasons in years, with the Gaels finishing the regular season 21–9 overall and 12–2 in the WCC. A second place finish in the WCC gave the Gaels an automatic berth to the Women's National Invitational Tournament, the first time since 2002 and only the third time in program history.
The Gaels hosted Utah in the WNIT opening round on March 21 at McKeon Pavilion, but could not overcome the Utes' stifling defense, falling 66–53. Despite the loss, head coach Paul Thomas remained positive about the season.
"Most teams aren't going to end the season with a win. Actually, only the winner of the NIT and the NCAA tournament will end with a win. We couldn't be prouder of this team… This program has taken a major, major step forward."
While the elevated play can be attributed to many factors, one reason for the team's success is the defensive threat of junior forward Louella Tomlinson. For the second season in a row, she was named WCC Defensive Player of the Year.
On February 11 in a game against Gonzaga, Tomlinson notched five blocks and broke the NCAA Division I career blocks record at 483. After the Gaels fell to Pepperdine in the WCC Tournament on March 7, Tomlinson had 506 career blocks and 189 for the season, and she added another six in the game against Utah. She is now 21 blocks away from the NCAA blocks record of 533.
"I never thought I would break an NCAA record. My older sister held the block records at her school, and I aimed to do that but never expected to get this far," Tomlinson says. "I remember that after my freshman year a media person said something about the record to me, kind of like a passing comment, but I never thought about it."
Tomlinson has averaged at least five blocks a game since her freshman year, but she says she does not think about shot blocking, even in the game. "It's a little bit of luck. You have no control over the offense. Thinking about it makes you mess up more."
Thomas calls Tomlinson "a tremendously skilled basketball player with tremendous length — a 7-foot wingspan and long fingers.
"Her physical being is so long, it's just incredible. She has great timing and a long wing span."
Tomlinson's success can also be partly attributed to the program under Thomas.
"I have never been a shot-blocking type of coach. I always teach the fundamental position of the defender over shot blocking," he says. "But at the same time, it's my job to put players in a situation to be successful, and I think we are doing just that."
The player-coach match-up is perfect for both. Tomlinson says, "I knew I had the fundamentals. … I wanted a coach who had the confidence to let me show them."
Tomlinson not only is an incredible defender, she is also an offensive threat. She was second in the WCC in scoring, with 17.5 points, led the conference with 11.0 rebounds per game, and was 11th in the WCC for assists.
Tomlinson's goal for next season is to earn the WCC's Player of the Year award and with the Gaels on the rise, it might just be her year.