The start of the new year brings with it the beginning of conference play for women’s basketball teams across the state.
With the second semester at hand, here is a look at some of Maine’s best Division III programs as they move into the most important part of their season.
There is a lot of good basketball being played, whether in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, the Little East Conference, the North Atlantic Conference, the Sunrise Conference or elsewhere.
Bowdoin College of Brunswick and the University of Southern Maine have been the state’s flagship Division III programs for several years and the trend appears to be continuing.
Coach Adrienne Shibles’ Bowdoin women come into the week with a 9-0 record. The Polar Bears, featuring a nucleus of former eastern Maine high school standouts, are ranked fourth in the latest Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division III poll and fifth in the d3hoops.com poll.
The defending NESCAC champions, who advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, are gearing up for tonight’s home conference opener against instate rival Bates College of Lewiston (8-3).
Leading the charge for a balanced Bowdoin squad is senior forward Caitlin Hynes of Owls Head, who is averaging 13.6 points and six rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field.
The Polar Bears also feature Leah Rubega (9.9 ppg, 10.8 rpg), Ellery Gould (7.6 ppg), Katie Bergeron of Old Town (7.2 ppg, 4.0 apg), Kaitlyn Donahoe (6.7), Amy Hackett of Bangor (5.1 ppg), Colleen Sweeney (4.9 ppg) and Dexter’s Sabrina Cote (4.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
Coach Gary Fifield’s Southern Maine squad has dropped out of the top 25, but remains a force in the LEC and across New England.
The Huskies (9-3) have won five straight after back-to-back losses early in December. USM has a distinctly Maine flavor to its roster (12 players). It includes starting senior guard Nicole Paradis of Skowhegan (10.4 ppg, 3.0 apg) and sophomore forward Courtney Cochran of Waite (3.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg), a Woodland High product.
USM’s top performers include Curran Leighton (13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.1 spg, 3.1 bpg), Kaylie DiMillo (11.0 ppg, 3.0 apg) and Haley Johnson (8.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg).
NESCAC members Colby College of Waterville and Bates are both off to outstanding starts as they chase Bowdoin for conference honors. The Mules of coach Lori Gear McBride are 8-1, the only loss coming against Bowdoin.
Colby, which has won four in a row, is led by Alison Cappelloni. The senior forward is averaging 13.4 points and 7.0 rebounds.
The Mules have four Maine players, spearheaded by sophomore forward Rachael Mack of Augusta (9.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg) and senior Samantha Allen of Bridgton (9.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg). Other key contributors include sophomore guard Aarika Ritchie of Lee (8.0 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.7 rpg), Julianne Kowalski (8.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Jill Vaughan (9.1 ppg).
Bates, under 16th-year coach Jim Murphy, is 8-3 and has won seven of its last eight.
The Bobcats have numerous contributors, with senior forward Lauren Yanofsky (15.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and freshman swing player Allie Beaulieu (12.1 ppg, 23 3-pointers) heading the charge.
Down in Biddeford, the University of New England of the Commonwealth Coast Conference continues to put a formidable ball club on the court.
Coach Anthony Ewing’s Nor’easters are off to an 8-3 start. The team includes eight former Maine high school players.
Sophomore guard Kelley Paradis of Newport (12.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is UNE’s most productive performer. Other top scorers include Margo Russell (11.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) of Madison and Carrie Bunnell (10.8 ppg).
In the NAC, defending regular-season champion Husson University of Bangor and Maine Maritime Academy of Castine have played challenging nonleague schedules.
Coach Kissy Walker’s Eagles are 3-6, but have won three of their last four. Their opponents have included Bowdoin, UNE and Bates.
Husson boasts one of the region’s best all-around performers in senior forward Shelby Bradford. The Lee native is averaging 17.2 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Sophomore Bree Hanscom of Mattawamkeag (13.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg), junior guard Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan (10.9 ppg) and sophomore guard Amanda Gifford of Lee (6.8 ppg, 2.8 apg) give the Eagles a good corps of veterans.
Craig Dagan’s MMA Mariners (4-5) are rebuilding, but have tested themselves against the likes of Colby, Tufts and Bates.
Providing the push for MMA are sophomore forward Sam Goda of Eliot (10.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg), sophomore forward Amethyst Cousins of Bass Harbor (8.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and sophomore guard Maggie Smith (7.4 ppg).
UMaine-Farmington, under coach Jamie Beaudoin, is another NAC squad that put itself to the test in nonconference play. The Beavers (1-5) have taken on USM, Colby, Bates and UNE.
The difference-makers for UMF are senior forward Caitlyn Laflin of Farmingdale (12.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and junior guard Ashley Busque of Belgrade (7.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg).
UMaine-Fort Kent is trying to retain its status as the team to beat in the Sunrise Conference of the NAIA. The Bengals of coach Lucas Levesque own a 4-6 record.
Mainstays for UMFK include senior forward Kristen Violette of Eagle Lake (19.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg), junior Maliesha Caesar (10.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and senior Talisha Herring (8.7 ppg, 3.6 apg).