Westmont women do the work, win NAIA National Championship



Westmont’s women’s basketball team defeated Lee on Tuesday night 71-65 in Frankfort, Kentucky to win the program’s first-ever NAIA National Championship.

Tournament MVP Tugce Canitez fittingly scored the final points of the tournament on a runner in the lane to give the Warriors a 71-65 lead with nine seconds left.

Canitez and Kelsie Sampson accounted for 25 points each, while guard Esther Lee scored 12 points on a 4-of-5 effort from beyond the arc. Canitez added a game-high 20 rebounds to earn her 23rd double-double and 4th 20-20 game of the season.

The now two-time NAIA Player of the Year ended her senior season four points shy of tying the Westmont career scoring record even though she played just two years for the Warriors.

“Being at Westmont these two years was awesome for me,” Canitez said. “It wasn’t just playing basketball. They are my second family and support me all the time and make me better every day and they push me harder and harder. I am glad that I went to Westmont.”

The victory completes one of the most inspiring seasons in Santa Barbara team sports history as the Warriors banded together following the unexpected death of head coach Kirsten Moore’s husband last summer.

“I’m just really happy for my players,” Moore said. “The journey that we’ve been through as a group. It’s kind of hard to find words to put around an experience like this but I think the perseverance that we’ve showed throughout the season ? through on-the-court trials and off-the-court trials ?I think it seasoned us for close games throughout this entire tournament.”

Moore was named the NAIA Coach of the Year after the game for leading the Warriors to a 30-4 record.

Five of those wins came in the past week at the 32-team national tournament. Canitez set tournament records with free throws made (44) and free throws attempted (51).

Lee was named to the All-Tournament Team for lighting it up from outside. Lee led the tournament with 17 three-pointers made, including four in the championship game.

It’s Westmont’s eighth national championship in school history and the first since women’s soccer in 2003.

Lee finishes its season with a record of 34-3.