As Our Lady of the Lake’s full-court pressure reached a fever pitch in the closing moments of Saturday’s NAIA top-10 matchup, Stephanie Soares received the ball around midcourt and did what any self-respecting 6-foot-6 center with exceptional guard skills would. She took off.
Soares dribbled all the way into the lane, faked to her left and spun back to her right, laying the ball in to alleviate any threat the No. 6-ranked Saints might come all the way back from a deficit that had hovered near 20.
The No. 4-ranked Mustangs knew Our Lady of the Lake (Texas) planned to play at a frenetic pace on Saturday, hoping to hurry Master’s into a bevy of mistakes on the final day of Westmont College’s tournament in Santa Barbara. But TMU took it mostly in stride, moving the ball for open shots and protecting the ball – and rim – in an 85-68 win.
The total marked a season-high in points for the Mustangs, who have now beaten four teams ranked in NAIA Division 1 or 2 (the Saints are NAIA D1) on the way to a 7-0 record. This is TMU’s best start to a season since 2012-13 when the club won its first 17 games.
Soares, who broke TMU’s career blocks record Friday as only a sophomore, flirted with a triple-double Saturday, compiling 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks. Hannah Ostrom added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Brooke Bailey chipped in 15 points.
Jessica Soares provided crucial production off the bench. She tossed in nine points to go with 10 rebounds and one block.
“Jess played fantastic tonight and was critical to our success,” said TMU head coach Dan Waldeck.
It was Ostrom who carried the Mustang offense early. Before three minutes had elapsed in the second quarter, the senior guard had compiled 12 points. But the Saints (2-3) – who have lost to teams ranked No. 5, No. 8 and No. 4 over their last three games – showed why they opened the year at No. 6, taking a Mustang lead that had grown to 17 and dropping it to eight by halftime.
But a play early in the second half embodied the command with which the Mustangs navigated the game’s final 20 minutes. Junior Anika Neuman clapped her hands repeatedly, calling for the ball outside the three-point arc. She received it and buried the shot for three of her seven points.
The Mustangs were off and running.
“We’re just sticking together,” Stephanie Soares said of why TMU has played particularly well in games against ranked opponents this season. “Our coaches challenged us to come together and play as one, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re playing as one unit.”
Eight Master’s players recorded at least two assists Saturday, and the Mustangs won the rebounding battle 46-37.
Men finish 9th at NAIA XC nationals
As much as any coach at The Master’s University, Zach Schroeder has endeavored to connect his program’s present to its past.
Earlier this year, he asked John Gilbertson to address the Mustangs, Gilbertson providing insight on Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, the course where he won a national title for TMU in 2012 and the site of this year’s NAIA Cross Country National Championships.
Thursday evening, Schroeder’s team gathered inside a Vancouver hotel room as Mike Kildal, the program’s coach during the 1980s, recounted stories of humble beginnings.
At one point, Kildal reached into a paper bag and revealed dated uniforms. One singlet was yellow with a solitary blue stripe. Another was blue and labeled: “L.A. Baptist Cross Country,” referencing the school’s former name.
Athletes passed the pieces of history around as Schroeder praised Kildal for laying a strong foundation. Kildal praised Schroeder for cultivating progress: Master’s has appeared at each of the last 10 NAIA national championships, including Friday’s event, one of only three programs in the country to do so.
“You guys are living dreams my athletes never had,” Kildal said.
Friday, Master’s slipped into sleek, white uniforms adorned with a modern-looking Mustang and attempted to separate themselves from history — at least in one regard.
Master’s had never before finished in the top four at nationals, a goal it set over the summer when 11 members of the team relocated to Flagstaff, Arizona, for intensive training.
That the Mustangs felt a collective sense of disappointment with Friday’s ninth-place finish spoke to just how high the program’s expectations have climbed since Schroeder became head coach in 2006. It was TMU’s second top-10 finish in the last four years.
Stephen Pacheco finished 12th individually to claim the first NAIA All-American award of his career, and Brint Laubach came in 30th, the first freshman in program history to become an All-American.
Even in defeat, the Mustangs remained a team defined by love for one another and for Christ.
“The thing I’m most encouraged by with this group,” Schroeder said, “was how much they love each other. I feel like they really wanted to train together and they really had a heart to please the Lord through their efforts, and I feel like they’re very unified in that. I hope that’s the legacy of these seniors.”
Davis Boggess finished 86th, Golden Valley grad Daniel Rush came in 87th and Justin Harris was 120th for Master’s.
On the women’s side, TMU sophomore Arianna Ghiorso finished 56th competing as an individual.
For more information on The Master’s University Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com.