Youthful Mariners aiming for playoffs

Posted Nov. 16, 2009, at 10:56 p.m.

It is a new beginning for the Maine Maritime Academy women’s basketball team.

With numerous roster changes, including the addition of 10 freshmen, coach Craig Dagan is revamping everything in the hope of helping MMA of Castine re-establish itself as one of the powers in the North Atlantic Conference.

The quest begins today at 5 p.m. when the Mariners open the season with a game at the University of Maine-Machias.

“Right from the start, we’re going to be a completely different team and we’ve changed everything,” said MMA’s ninth-year coach.

The Mariners are coming off a 9-16 campaign that was the worst in program history. MMA reached the NAC tournament, but failed to get to the title game for the first time in five seasons.

“We had our first losing season in a long time (six years) and I don’t think that sat well with anybody,” Dagan said. “We’re ready to get back to our winning ways.”

MMA is without three key contributors from last season who have left the team for a variety of reasons. That group includes Tatum Welch, the No. 3 scorer (15.9 points per game) and No. 3 rebounder (10.7 rpg) in the NAC last season, along with Elizabeth Cote (5.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and Ashley Tilton (5.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg).

Those departures, combined with the many newcomers, led Dagan to re-evaluate how to better utilize his players’ talents. He opted to scrap his offensive and defensive systems.

“It was more a decision made to accommodate the personnel that we have,” Dagan said. “We’re going to be much more uptempo, pressing all the time.”

MMA is building around a corps of veterans that includes sophomore forward Sam Goda of Eliot (10.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg), junior point guard Katie Pushard of Winthrop (6.2 ppg, 3.3 apg), and senior guard Kelsi Eiane of Harpswell (3.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 apg), the lone senior. Juniors Katie Hutchinson of Dixfield (4.2 ppg, 2.2 apg) and Jessica Stahl of Bowdoin (4.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, .505 field-goal percentage) and sophomore guard/forward Maggie Smith of Bath (4.6 ppg) also have experience.

MMA also welcomed back sophomore forward Amethyst Cousins of Bass Harbor, who did not play last season, junior Brittany Hunt, a 3-point shooter who sat out last season after undergoing knee surgery, and sophomore Kayley Rodriguez.

“Our upperclassmen that did grind through last year, they’re all motivated and working hard,” Dagan said. “Every single one of them has improved dramatically.”

The Mariners will receive plenty of contributions from first-year players. That group includes 6-foot-1 center Sabrina Keach of Chesterville and guards Casey McCloskey of Howland, Alexis Bennett of Freedom and Alex Donald of Litchfield.

The other newcomers are Kelsi Conley of South Portland, Courtney Dufour of Augusta, Leah Jackson of Dedham, Casey Everest of Portland, Devyn Curless-Clark of Clinton and Tyler Williams.

“We’ve got great team chemistry right now and we haven’t had that the last two years,” Dagan said.

“The team is much more relaxed, the kids are having fun.”

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