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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Highlands Hoops Alum Earning Stripes at Thomas More

Barth Named Mid-South Conference Freshman of Year

Joe Humphries. Thomas More freshman Zoie Barth (14) brings the ball up-court in a game against the University of Michigan-Dearborn on Nov. 16, 2019. Barth, a 2019 Highlands graduate, started 29 games for the Saints and earned Freshman of the Year honors for the Mid-South Conference this season. 

By G. Michael Graham

Her impressive production on the court started when she made the rotation as a seventh grader.

When it finished up last year, Zoie Barth finished second in school history with 2,416 career points for the Highlands Bluebirds girls basketball team. Barth continued that amazing production at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics level for the Thomas More University Saints in nearby Crestview Hills.

The 2019 Highlands graduate made 29 starts on her way to earning Mid-South Conference Freshman of the Year honors. Barth scored 372 points this year for an average of 12.8 points per game. She also made 99-of-237 shots for just under 42 percent including 35-of-94 three-point tries for just more than 37 percent. She also had 142 rebounds including 126 on the defensive glass, 137 assists, 93 turnovers, 44 steals and nine blocked shots.

"It says a lot about her as a young lady just how she was raised and how she's willing to help the program continue to be where it's at and where we've been and where we're going in this transition," said Jeff Hans, Thomas More Head Coach. "We didn't play an easy schedule. The only reason she missed three games is because of an injury."

Barth shot free throws well in high school and it continued at Thomas More. Barth made 139-of-162 attempts for just under 86 percent. During one six-game stretch in February, Barth made 39-of-39 free throws.

"I have a lot of respect for (Highlands Head Coach Jaime Walz-) Richey. She deserves a lot of credit for the player I've become," Barth said. "She really stressed the fundamentals and working hard. Free throws were always the big thing we worked on in high school because they're free. They can come down to winning or losing a game. It's always been a big part of my game, too."

Barth recorded two double-doubles on the season. She had a season-high 24 points making all 12 free throws in a 78-67 win over Cumberland University (Lebanon, Tennessee) on Feb. 29.

Thomas More transitioned to the NAIA this season after winning two national championships in four years at the NCAA Division III level. Schools can offer athletic scholarships at the NAIA level, but not at the NCAA Division III level.

"Coach Hans had a lot of confidence in me and the rest of my teammates early on," Barth said. "It started out with summer workouts, open gyms and conditioning and just getting into shape and transitioning into college play then really the assistant coaches (Laney Lewis, Tim Shields and Emily Vogelpohl) and Coach Hans just really pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and help me expand my skill level, play and confidence. My teammates really had confidence in me, too. We just went out there, played and worked on everything we'd been working on since the summer."

Thomas More finished 22-10 overall including a 9-7 clip in MSC action. Thomas More took down second-ranked Campbellsville (Kentucky), 69-58 in the semifinals of the MSC Tournament before losing 81-72 to ninth-ranked Shawnee State of Portsmouth (Ohio) in the title game.

Thomas More qualified for the national tournament. The Saints were set to face Vanguard University (Costa Mesa, California) in the first round on March 19 in Billings, Montana. But the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic forced the cancellation of the tournament.

"We definitely had a pretty strong first season," Barth said. "We're in a pretty competitive and talented conference. You see multiple teams from our conference receiving national ranking votes constantly throughout the season. There is a lot of respect for the teams in our conference and skill level. We had a pretty young team and we had some adjustments to go through and some new people playing together. It didn't go as well as we wanted it to. But I think we had some good things. It was a good introductory year into the NAIA and the Mid-South Conference."

Barth became teammates with a number of former opponents from the Highlands days. That includes fellow freshmen Joy Strange and Courtney Hurst from Conner and Summer Secrist from Scott.

"They're all really, really good players on and off the court," Barth said. "I just think you've played against there girls for years growing up so you know them in a high school setting. Then it's cool to see how they've grown as players and filled the roles on a different team. It just build our chemistry. We have tremendous respect for each other."

Barth knew things would be different balancing her academic, athletic and social lives at Thomas More. She was involved in a number of clubs during her Highlands days.

"We started off right off the bat with basketball. It wasn't every day or anything. But we had we had open gym. conditioning and workouts three or four times a week. Right off the bat, you're kind of forced to manage your time so that helped right away. I didn't have to think twice to be organized or intentional with my time and my effort," Barth said. "The professors at Thomas More are great. They're very supportive of student-athletes and they're just always there to help you if you need extra help. They're willing to put in the extra time to help students succeed. That's been a big part to my academic success. The coaches hold you very accountable on your studies. If you're not doing well in the classroom, you're going to be required to put in more work to do well because they want success for us on the floor and in the classroom. I'm grateful to have a community that Thomas More offers."

Barth is majoring in Biology. She recorded a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in the fall semester. Freshmen student-athletes have mandatory study tables four to six hours per week. The basketball players check in with Lewis or Vogelpohl for a weekly meeting on the academics. Barth is headed down a pre-med path currently.

"I don't know what I want to do yet. I know I want to do something in the field of medicine that involves kids. I want to specialize in pediatrics, but I don't want to be a physician," Barth said. "I'm kind of waiting until I get more hands on experience until I know exactly what I want to go into."

In the spring semester, Barth is taking six normal classes and one online course. All the classes moved online when the campus shut down because of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic. Two of her classes are labs. Barth said hand-on learning is big at Thomas More. But the professors in the lab classes have used worksheets with different specimens and data.

"School online totally is definitely an adjustment," Barth said. "At the very beginning when we found out the repercussions of COVID-19, our professors have been in constant contact with us. They've been reaching our just encouraging us and being open with us. This is definitely different for them, too. They've had to change their learning plans and ways to give instruction. Reminding me of that has helped me learn to be graceful during this different season."

During the season, Barth still found time to see her brother Zach Barth play. He just finished his sophomore season at Highlands. He helped the Highlands boys to a 28-4 season. The Bluebirds won their first 36th District championship since 2008 and made it to the region championship for the first time since 2001.

"I'm extremely proud of them with how far they've come," Zoie Barth said. "It's more special to me because my brother is on the team. We've grown up being coached together and working on our games together. He's been in the stands cheering on me. I just think it's super cool to see the chemistry of the team and how they understand their roles. They weren't scared anymore. They were ready to prove everyone wrong."

Hans said he'd like to see Barth develop more versatility offensively. One way to do that is develop more moves dribbling with her left hand.

"Hopefully we are able to get in the gym," Hans said. "When we are there, she'll hopefully develop a better offensive game as far as shooting percentages. We'd like to see those go up. We think they will because of her freshman year and adjusting to a new style of play, a new coaching staff and a new system than what she had in high school."

Thomas More plays a lot of man-to-man defense. The Saints like to score a lot of points in transition off defense. Hans said the Saints run a lot of wing ball screens and different types of motion.

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