Championship season lives on
Kari (Kinneberg) Schultz, Laurie (Trow) Kelly and Kari (Bymers) Lewis couldn’t have been any hungrier for this.
Each knew what it was to be on the cusp of athletic greatness, only to fall just short of it as members of the Rochester John Marshall girls basketball program in the late 1980s.
Lofty rankings were followed by them being upset late in the region tournament, continually denying them trips to the state tournament.
"We were too talented to have never gotten to state," said Kelly, who was the most talented one of the bunch, having gotten Division I offers following her senior year. "A late turnover or a last-second shot always did us in. To finish our high school careers that way was tough."
But it made what happened during the 1990-91 season all the sweeter.
"That we hadn’t accomplished what we thought we should have (at JM) made us want success all the more," Schultz said
Schultz, Kelly and Lewis all took their basketball games to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Schultz was a junior on that 1990-91 season, and Kelly and Lewis were both sophomores. They were joined by more local connections, with Lourdes graduate Nora (Breckle) Watts and Wabasha-Kelllogg graduate Suzy (Bouquet) Henriksen seniors that season for the Tommies.
It was an amazing team. In fact, it goes down as the best women’s basketball collection St. Thomas has ever had. It ended with them cutting down the nets in their home gym, site that year of the NCAA III national championship.
St. Thomas finished 29-2 and a 73-55 winner over Muskingum (Ohio) in the title game.
Twenty years later, the memories they shared and the relationships they cultivated were celebrated, as St. Thomas devoted a weekend to honor the school’s only national women’s basketball championship.
"It was phenomenal," Schultz said. "They put on a fabulous dinner and almost all of the players came back for it. Our parents were also invited. They did a video for us and put together a (memory) book."
As inspired as the gathering was, it didn’t require a 20-year anniversary of this national championship for these women to get back together. Schultz said that many of those former players — particularly the Rochester-area ones — gather on an annual basis. All five of them now have spouses and children, with the only far-flung one among them Kelly, who is the head women’s basketball coach at Northern Arizona.
There was a bond formed during their playing days that’s been unbreakable. It’s also one of the best explanations for the success they had as a team.
"We had the mentality that you practice hard and we take things one game at a time," Kelly said. "But the other things is that we really enjoyed each other. Team chemistry is the key, and people willing to accept roles. And on nights when we had to play well, we really played well."
Nobody played any better than Kelly in those big games. In the national championship she finished with 33 points on a blistering 14-of-16 shooting. There was no doubt who this team’s star was, and Kelly’s teammates happily accepted that.
"Laurie just didn’t miss," Schultz said. "She was tall, strong and a great player. She could have gone anywhere she wanted."
Despite all of those options, Kelly never doubted that she made the right choice in heading to St. Thomas.
"I loved it there," she said. "There is something about Tommies taking care of Tommies. You just don’t get that at a larger institution."
She definitely got it as a member of the St. Thomas women’s basketball team, as did all of the players on this team.
And no doubt, there was one year that stood out.
"When I look back on it, winning that national championship was one of the top five things that has ever happened to me," Schultz said. "It was one of the most memorable events of my life."