SIOUX CITY — To win an NAIA national title, all it takes is some perseverance.
Three-hundred and seventy six days ago — March 12, 2020 — the Westmont College women’s basketball team received the crushing news that their season was over.
After cruising into the NAIA National Tournament as the No. 1 seed, the Warriors didn’t get a chance to play for the national title in 2020, as the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Now, after 12 months of dreams and hard work, the Warriors are national champions at last.
At 8:51 p.m. on Tuesday night at Tyson Events Center, the final buzzer rang and confetti fell from the ceiling while the Warriors put the finishing touches on their 72-61 victory over No. 1 seed Thomas More.
The team stormed the court in celebration, as the program clinched the second title in its history.
After all they have been through this season, Westmont's players have plenty of reason to be grateful. Following the tournament’s cancellation last March, the Warriors’ players trained hard for the chance at redemption.
Led by their “Big Three” of Stefanie Berberabe, Iyree Jarrett, and Lauren Tsuneishi, all of whom stand five-foot-five inches or below, the Warriors rode their speed and their defense to a national title.
“They don’t pass the eye test. You look at them and you go, are they five feet or five-two?” Warriors coach Kirsten Moore said. “Five-two is probably a little generous. They have this relentless spirit, and this incredible talent. They’ve worked hard on their skill, but the biggest them I am proud of is the heart that they play with. They never give up, and they continue to just attack and go for it. They are just phenomenal.”
Due to the stricter COVID restrictions in California, the Warriors only got to play a total of 16 games this season. After what happened in 2020, they made it a point to treasure every single game, and because of their careful approach to the pandemic the team was never shut down from COVID.
“We’re super selfless and we’re going to sacrifice everything for each other,” junior Stefanie Berberabe said. “It really shows on the court, and off the court. We deserve to be here, and we deserve to win, because we really just put in that work for each other.”
Berberabe put up yet another outstanding performance against the Saints, with 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Though she stands just 5-feet tall, Berberabe was a giant on the court throughout the NAIA tournament.
Moore described Berberabe after Monday night's win over Indiana Wesleyan as "relentless," and that mindset has seeped into the rest of the rest of the team.
Berberabe said that the main theme of the Warriors' program is never backing down from a challenge. Whether it was COVID-19, Indiana Wesleyan, or Thomas More, the Warriors beat all of their opponents with a fierce and relentless determination.
"Our coaches challenged everyone on our team to just attack and go into it with the mentality that we are not going to stand down," Berberabe said. "What our team needs is the mindset of perseverance and resilience. Even if we were pushed back on the wall or we were down, I just knew that I could count on my team to pick it up."
The win came at the perfect time for Moore. Wednesday is her birthday, and she will receive the best gift possible; an afternoon with her team as they lug home the championship trophy, and the chance to finally take a long-awaited nap.
"I'll probably sleep most of the way home," Moore said. "Really, just enjoy my time with these ladies as we travel. That is the biggest thing. Any chance to be with them, I'm super grateful."
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!