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St. Thomas women's basketball coach Ruth Sinn never forgets how it all began.

It is not the unprecedented success of the past 10 full seasons when the Tommies dominated the MIAC, posting a 181-17 record in conference play with seven league titles. It is that first season in 2005-2006 when she moved from being the head coach at Apple Valley High School to the college ranks.

It's the 10-15 overall record and the seventh-place finish in conference play, at 7-13.

"I think back to that first group that came with me that laid the foundation," Sinn said. "They're the ones that deserve the credit. They're not the ones that reap the benefits, but they built the foundation in order for us to be able to do what we did."

What they did was become one of the most dominant Division III basketball programs in the country.

And now? Time for a new foundation.

St. Thomas will debut in Division I, as a member of the Summit League, on Wednesday. And while the Tommies could have made it easier on themselves for the nonconference opener, instead they will travel to Madison and face Wisconsin.

Sinn said the most basic reason for scheduling a Big Ten opponent to start in Division I was drawing a line in the sand. Back there goes dominance, up ahead a new reality.

"You don't know how many times I get, 'Are you going this year? Is it this year? Are you giving real scholarships?' It's like, 'Yeah! We're doing this!' " Sinn said. "We need people to know, we're all in."

Since joining the team in 2017-2018, senior forward Kaia Porter of Roseville has been a part of rosters that have gone 84-12 and reached a Division III Final Four and Sweet 16. She knows that kind of success isn't likely in her final season.

But finding something new to play for brings a world of excitement to the team.

"For us, especially this year, it's just play fearless, play free, play together and let's see what we can do," Porter said. "Let's set up St. Thomas women's basketball for the years to come."

Porter is one of three returning starters, along with Katelyn Stanley and Noelle Tomes. Tomes spent over two seasons at Division I Air Force before transferring to St. Thomas in 2019. The Tommies also added transfer forward Erin Norling, who was the NSIC South Division Player of the Year with Wayne State last season.

Tomes played her high school ball at East Ridge, Norling was at Delano and in-state players are common for the roster. Stanley is one of six players on the team from out of state. The South Dakota native graduated from Sioux City Heelan in Iowa.

The team will now transition to the Summit League, which has a rich Division I NCAA Tournament tradition, including a Sweet 16 run by South Dakota State in 2019. But Sinn still believes she can create a winner at the next level by recruiting prep athletes from Minnesota.

"The benefit is the talent in the state of Minnesota in women's basketball is elite. you are seeing that at all levels," she said. "You're seeing that in the professional level. You're seeing that at the high collegiate level. You're seeing that at the high school level, as well, whether it be the high school or the AAU programs.

"If we can close this borders and just keep these kids home, that would be fantastic. I would love that."

Before they close those borders though, they'll have to cross them to face Wisconsin and start building the future.