Tuğçe Canitez has soared to heights never before attained by a Westmont College basketball player. After being named the 2012 NAIA Women’s Player of the Year, she played for Turkey at the London Olympic Games. Certainly a professional career awaits her in Europe, and possibly the WNBA. But that future is on hold, because Westmont is still at the center of Canitez’s orbit. The 6’2” forward has returned for her senior season.
“She had opportunities before she came here and opportunities after last season to go play professionally,” Warrior women’s coach Kirsten Moore said. “I think she has found a family here at Westmont that she wants to be part of. When she commits to something, she’s going to do it. That’s hard to come by these days, with athletes going from this team to that team, [saying] ‘Oh, I’ll just look out for myself.’ I respect her a lot for that.”
“In Turkey, most of the teams are interested in me,” Canitez said. “I’m hearing from different people, like, ‘Hey, you have to play professionally.’ But I didn’t want to leave my team alone, and I wanted to graduate. I think education is really important. I was pretty excited to come back to Westmont.”
A social sciences major, Canitez has reached a secure comfort level a year after moving to Montecito from a community college in Idaho. “She was really quiet when she first got here,” said senior guard Jillian Wilber. “She is a lot more vocal this year, still not super talkative, but when she has something to say, she says it, and people listen, and that’s super valuable for us. She’s also a lot of fun to be around.”
The Warriors took pride in seeing “Tooch,” as they call their teammate, at the Olympics. “I didn’t miss a game,” Wilber said. “I woke up at 3 a.m. to watch one of them, 5 a.m. for another.” Canitez got midday exposure when Turkey played the United States. She stroked a jumper from the top of the key in the first half and also recorded two rebounds and a steal against the unstoppable American women. Canitez, the youngest player on the Turkish team, saw action in every game — victories over Angola, the Czech Republic, China, and Croatia and a 66-63 quarterfinal loss to Russia.
“The Olympics was cool,” Canitez said. “It was fun because I like playing with really intense teams. They are strong; they are tough. I just loved it, and I tried my best for my team.” Canitez’s dark eyes radiate her gentle side when she holds Alexis Renee Moore, the newest member of the Westmont basketball family. Kirsten Moore gave birth to her daughter on June 29, the same day that Turkey earned a berth in Olympic women’s basketball by defeating Argentina. “That was a good day,” Moore said.
It’s been a year of good, great, and deeply sad days for the coach. Her Warriors went 31-4 in the 2011-12 season, winning the Golden State Athletic Conference title, and reaching the Elite Eight of the NAIA Championships. Meanwhile, Kirsten’s husband and her strongest supporter, Westmont kinesiology professor Alex Moore, was suffering from Crohn’s disease. He died from complications after surgery on May 9, seven weeks before Alexis was born.
Westmont faculty wives and mothers help out with babysitting when Kirsten Moore has to focus on coaching. The Warriors have picked up where they left off last season. They are currently 7-1 and ranked No. 5 in the NAIA. Canitez is averaging 19.4 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. In a 56-55 victory over Carroll College in Montana, she recorded the second triple-double in school history — 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. “I’m surprised it was her first one because her passing is so great,” Moore said. “If her teammates step up with confidence and hit their shots, she’ll have a chance to get more assists.” Amber Stevens, a guard, had a triple-double of 13 points, 10 assists, and 10 steals in a 2006 game.
Westmont’s women return to the floor at Murchison Gym on Friday, December 14, when they host William Jessup University at 5:30 p.m. A game between the Westmont men (also 7-1) and Bethesda University will follow at 7:30. On December 28-29, Westmont will stage concurrent men’s and women’s tournaments, and the Warrior women will face a pair of NAIA powers — No. 8-ranked Oklahoma City, the defending national champion; and No. 4-ranked Westminster of Utah.
The emotional highlight of Westmont’s schedule will be the Alex Moore Classic on January 12. There will be special admission prices and a raffle at the game between the Warriors and San Diego Christian. Proceeds will benefit Kirsten and Alexis Moore, as well as research into Crohn’s disease.
For more sports, including a weekly highlight schedule, see independent.com/sports.