Hundreds of faculty, staff, students and alumni welcomed the NAIA National Champion Westmont women’s basketball team as they returned to campus by bus March 20. Warrior supporters, armed with balloons, signs, pom-poms, newspapers, flowers and noise makers, created an arm tunnel as the Warriors, fresh off the college’s first national title in basketball, waded into a sea of adoring fans.
The crowd quickly followed the players into Murchison Gym, where President Gayle D. Beebe congratulated the team. Beebe explained that he had arrived at the championship game in Kentucky minutes before tipoff.
He interviewed Esther Lee, who made the First NAIA National Tournament Team, about her resiliency during an incredibly physical match to make four of five three-point shots in the championship game. Lee recorded a tournament-high 17 three-pointers and averaged 13.2 points per game.
Kelsie Sampson, who scored 25 points and pulled down six rebounds for the Warriors in the championship game, credited the win to exceptional teamwork and remarkable supporters.
Tugce Canitez, NAIA Player of the Year and Championship MVP, said their offensive focus this year was to include Sampson and Lee more when she was being double- and triple-teamed. She averaged 22.2 points per game and led all tournament participants in scoring, rebounds and free throws.
John Moore, the head men’s basketball coach, whipped the crowd into a chant of “We are proud of you, yes, we are proud of you.” The loudest applause of the afternoon came when he asked the crowd to stand and show their appreciation for Kirsten Moore, head basketball coach of the women’s team, and her daughter, Alexis, who stayed in Kentucky to visit family. Kirsten was named NAIA Coach of the Year.
Beebe closed the ceremony, urging the crowd to continue to keep Kristen and Alexis in their prayers. He said one of Westmont’s hallmarks is supporting each other and not allowing setbacks in our lives to define us. Instead, we forge ahead and create a path for our lives, as Kirsten and the team have done in winning the national championship.