None better than Mighty Moss

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Sydney Moss has been the center of attention in Division III women's basketball throughout the vast majority of her three seasons in a Thomas More uniform. More photos from the title game.
Photo by Larry Radloff, 

By Gordon Mann

Photo by Larry Radloff, 

The first time I got Mossed was at the 2015 sectional semifinals.

We had just run a piece by Adam Turer explaining that there was more to the top-ranked Thomas More Saints than their best player Sydney Moss. She had already been the consensus national player of the year as a sophomore in 2014 and was in the midst of accomplishing a feat that no Division III basketball player, man or woman, had before.

Thomas More was hosting Washington U., which had easily eliminated the Saints from the NCAA Tournament in 2011, before Moss arrived. Thomas More’s Connor Convocation Center was packed and Moss did not disappoint the energized crowd. She opened the game by scoring the Saints’ first 18 points in the game's first six minutes. All that was missing was a Michael Jordan-like shrug to the scorer’s table to say she didn’t know how she was doing it either.

Moss couldn’t help but be aware of her superstar status at Thomas More. That sounds like hyperbole but it’s true. Her home playoff games had so many fans that students stood atop the concession stand counter to see over people who were already in standing-room only space on the running track around Thomas More's court.  Thomas More students and parents showed up carrying large cardboard cutouts of Moss’ head, which is not entirely unique. Those fans would then chant “you-got-mossed” at an opponent after Moss did something special. She’s the only Division III women’s basketball player I’ve seen with her own cheer.

Last season she was also the only Division III basketball player to win consensus player of the year, the national scoring title, the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award and a national championship with an undefeated record, all in the same season. To add to the legend, she also broke the NCAA tournament record for scoring, despite playing on an injured knee that required surgery after the season was over. I wrote a lot of words about that special accomplishment, calling it the single greatest season for any Division III women’s basketball player ever.

The unspoken implication in that article was that Moss may also be the greatest player in Division III women’s basketball history, period. I intended to leave that unspoken until I overheard Amherst head coach G.P. Gromacki talking to two parents after Thomas More beat Amherst 74-65 in the national semifinals.  Moss had just scored 39 points, including 29 in the second half, through a bevy of low post power moves, three-pointers and a pivotal play where she turned a teammate’s air ball into a game-clinching layup.

“She might be the best Division III player of all time,” Gromacki explained to the parents. “Someone should write something about that.”

That was my cue and this is that something. Sydney Moss is the greatest Division III women’s basketball player of all time.

These types of statements are subjective. I’ve covered Division III women’s basketball for 18 years and seen 15 women’s national championships. That leaves out a lot of great players like Page Lutz at Elizabethtown (two-time tournament MOP), Jeannie Demers at Buena Vista (three-time scoring champion), and Laura Schmelzer at Capital, who all played before I finished high school.

Moss’ closest contender for the GOAT title during D3hoops lifetime is someone else I missed, Alia Fischer who played at Washington U from 1996 to 2000. Like Moss, Fischer was named player of the year three times. She "only" had one NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player award, but that's because there was none named for some reason in 1999 when Fischer was first team All-Tournament on Wash U's first undefeated national championship team. Fischer won three consecutive national championships with two undefeated seasons in 1999 and 2000. Moss might have done the same thing if her sophomore campaign and Thomas More’s season didn’t end in the national quarterfinals with an ACL tear at Whitman. 

Fischer also had at least one all-time great playing with her in Tasha Rodgers. Maybe we’ll eventually say the same about Thomas More point guard Abby Owings who was an All-American this season as a sophomore. And if Thomas More didn’t have more than Moss as Adam Turer wrote, then the Saints wouldn’t have beaten Washington U. in that 2015 sectional semifinal when Moss went to the bench late in the second half of a close game with four fouls. And the Saints wouldn’t have beaten Washington U. again in this year's national quarterfinals when Moss again sat with foul trouble and Owings saved the day by hitting four straight three-pointers.

All that said, Moss is without question the greatest Division III women’s basketball player I’ve seen. She was capable of dominating from multiple positions as needed. In the national semifinal victory over Amherst, she was an over-powering power forward, bulling her way past defenders. In last year’s national championship win over George Fox, she was a wing, playing along the perimeter and hitting her teammates with perfect passes so they had easy looks against the Bruins’ swarming defense. She was also a game-altering low post defender, despite being under six-feet tall, who helped hold George Fox’s best player to seven points on five field goal attempts. Moss finished that game with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists – the only triple-double of her college career.

After that game Moss seemed genuinely surprised about her triple-double and said she’d never had one before, even in high school. Similarly she wasn’t aware of her game-opening run against Washington U. in 2015 when asked about it in the postgame press conference. We only get to see glimpses of what Sydney is like off the court, but in those glimpses she’s humble, well-spoken and has a good sense of humor.

On the court she asserted her superior strength and skill and dominated a game when needed.  She was also routinely praised, especially by opposing coaches, for her unselfish play and making her teammates better.

Off the court she seemed more comfortable fading into the background, surrounded by her teammates and playing with the young children of well-wishers and admirers who came to watch her play. In the same lobby where Gromacki talked about Moss’ unparalleled excellence, she was pretend boxing with one of the youngest members of the Thomas More basketball family.

Photo by Larry Radloff,

In the final game of her career, Moss finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and a handful of assists as the Saints defeated Tufts 63-51 for a second consecutive perfect season. By Moss’ standards, it was a relatively quiet night. Beyond the box score, Moss showed her versatility by playing in the post on defense and along the perimeter on offense. And when the Saints were reeling a little early in the second quarter, Moss scored five straight points on a putback off her own miss and a deep three from the wing. Fittingly, Moss started the game-deciding fourth quarter run with a break-away layup.

Last season I asked Thomas More head coach Jeff Hans if Moss’ season was the greatest of all time, and he demurred out of respect for what others have done. This season I asked Hans to write the final line in Moss’ storybook college career.

“Sydney Moss is a winner. There's no doubt about it.  She's a great kid.  And all the pressure gets put on her, of who she is and where she's from and what she's about and the way she carries herself on and off the court.

"And if I could write a little better, she would have made a few more shots tonight, made a couple more threes, made that little runner in the lane right there. Because she was frustrated with that part of it.

"But she never stopped playing. I mean, almost a double-double, again, this year, I know she had triple double in the championship, but one rebound shot of a double-double I think. And she's a winner. We love her."