The University of Maine-Presque Isle women’s volleyball team has set itself up for another championship season.
The team’s upperclassmen won’t be digging it as much as possible, however, if they win a second straight Sunrise Conference title and aren’t invited as an at-large team in the national tournament.
Expectations have risen along with the program as it has gone from a fledgling team with a limited schedule 11 years ago to a conference power that has won 48 consecutive sets in conference play.
“We’ve gone 16-0 in the conference the last two years,” said second-year head coach Terry Cummings. “And with everyone back from last year, even though we’re older, we’re hungrier after going 16-3 and not getting a bid to nationals last year.”
After the University of Maine-Machias Invitational tourney Nov. 7, the 15-4 Owls will try to defend their Sunrise title in the conference tournament Nov. 14 at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
With all six starters back — including all-conference and American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Northeast Region selections Erica Davis of Cumberland and Michelle Ferry of Princeton — the Owls have made it look easy despite a tougher schedule.
“We tried to beef it up after missing nationals last year because schedule strength is a big factor,” Cummings said. “We added Husson University and Maine Maritime Academy.”
Ironically, it was MMA’s Mariners — the team Ferry used to play for before transferring in 2008 after her sophomore year — that all three of UMPI’s losses been against.
“We swept Husson, but [losing to MMA] could cost us. Our hope is that a stronger schedule will make the difference for us,” Cummings said. “We’re at a bit of a disadvantage because of our dual affiliation with NCAA Division III and the NAIA, and no automatic entry.”
Since the Sunrise only has four members, its champion has no automatic spot in the national tourney.
But first things first, and that involves winning another Sunrise title, which the veteran roster is well aware of.
“They don’t like to lose and their experience shows when they’re down or things are tight,” Cummings said. “Our passing and communication are so much better.”
The other starters are setter Megan Korhonen of Littleton, outside hitter and fellow junior Victoria Rowe of Houlton; senior weak-side hitter Johanah Bubar, a former soccer player who’s now a two-year starter; sophomore middle hitter and blocker Karen Creighton, and freshman libero Allison MacDonald.
“That’s another thing we’re strong in is athletic talent,” Cummings said. “We have a lot of multi-sport athletes and that helps in terms of experience.”
Running on Bower power
An already highly decorated NCAA Division III football player, Maine Maritime Academy’s Jim Bower joined an exclusive club last Saturday.
The senior fullback went over the 3,000-yard mark in career rushing with a 50-yard run in the first quarter en route to a total of 154 yards for the game on 21 carries.
“Jim’s not at the top of the heap, but he’s got to be in the top five for our program for his career,” said MMA head coach Chris McKenney. “He was more of a running back than a fullback when he came to us, so it took some time for him to get used to it.”
Bower not only had to learn a new position, he had to learn a new offense.
“We ran the I in high school and I loved that. Coming here, I got moved to fullback and I was kind of leery about the option because I’d never, ever played it before,” said the power engineering technology major. “It’s a completely opposite offense, but it’s been great for me.
“Nothing’s better than scoring touchdowns.”
Bower’s done a lot of that the last two years. In 2008, he scored 25. This year, he has 14 with two games remaining.
His yardage statistics are even more impressive. After finishing sixth in the nation among NCAA Division III players with 1,698 yards last year, Bower is second nationally this year with 1,148 on 180 carries.
The Mariners’ offensive team rushing totals are even more impressive. The New England Football Conference’s Bogan Division leader is currently the top-rushing NCAA Division III team with 2,819 yards. The Mariners are averaging 6.7 yards per carry and 402.7 per game thanks to the efforts of offensive linemen Dan Weamer, Andrew McCann, Michael Durrell, Mike Secord and Travis Berube along with tight end Travis Shaw.
Bower’s averages of 6.4 yards per carry and 164 per game are eye-popping, especially considering he plays in a system that relies almost exclusively on the run game and every opposing defensive player is specifically locking in on stopping him.
Bower stands just 5-foot-9, but weighs a solid 225 pounds, making him a tough man to bring down.
“He’s pretty much like a monster truck going through the line,” said MMA junior linebacker Wade Mondoux. “It’s like trying to tackle a big bowling ball.”
Pike breaks Saint Joseph’s record
Will Pike hasn’t even played two full seasons of soccer at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
But that hasn’t stopped him from establishing a program record for career shutouts.
The senior from Gorham helped the Monks blank Mount Ida 2-0 Saturday, giving him a school-record 15th shutout. The effort broke the previous mark of 14 held by Michael Bolanz, who graduated in 2000.
Pike, who spent his first two seasons at Division I Mount St. Mary’s University, leads the Great Northeast Athletic Conference this fall in goals-against average 0.97, save percentage (.856) and shutouts (7).
He is three victories shy of becoming the winningest goalkeeper in Saint Joseph’s history. Jeff Yaeger holds that record with 22.