BANGOR, Maine — Hosting the North Atlantic Conference women’s basketball tournament hasn’t been that great of an advantage in recent years.
As Maine Maritime Academy coach Craig Dagan points out, the host team has failed to win the last four league titles.
Husson University hopes to change that trend during the 2009 NAC tourney, which begins tonight on its home court at Newman Gymnasium.
NAC Coach of the Year Kissy Walker’s top-seeded Eagles (17-8, 14-0 NAC) begin their championship quest with a 6 p.m. semifinal against No. 4 University of Maine-Farmington (12-12, 9-5 NAC). That is followed by an 8 p.m. contest between No. 2 MMA of Castine (16-9, 11-3 NAC) and No. 3 Castleton State (16-10, 9-5 NAC), the defending league champion from Castleton, Vt.
The winners advance to Saturday’s 2 p.m. title contest.
Husson is motivated by last year’s loss to the Spartans in the title game.
“Definitely last year was upsetting,” said Husson senior Shelby Bradford, the NAC Player of the Year. “We lost in that game that we should have won. If we play our game, there shouldn’t be a team that even touches us.”
The subject of the 2009 final has not come up among the Eagles, who are riding a 14-game win streak.
“We haven’t discussed the loss from last year because these are smart kids and I know it’s in the back of their minds,” Walker said. “We’ve just continued to prepare to play our game and what we do well.”
Husson is 6-0 against the NAC field. The Eagles beat the Beavers 76-67 on Jan. 19 at Farmington, then posted an 86-70 victory Feb. 2 in Bangor.
The contest matches the league’s two marquee players in Husson’s Bradford (17.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, .532 field-goal percentage) and UMF senior forward Caitlin Laflin of Farmingdale (17.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, .838 FT pct.), a four-time, All-NAC selection.
The Eagles also feature two-time, first-team pick Bree Hanscom of Mattawamkeag (14.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and junior shooting guard Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan (10.3 ppg).
Other catalysts for coach Jamie Beaudoin’s Beavers are junior guard Ashley Busque of Belgrade (9.2 ppg) and junior forward Jillian Ross of Belfast (7.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
Walker said although Husson is averaging 87 ppg at Newman Gym, defense will be the key in getting past the Beavers.
“It’s the defensive end where we’ve got to make sure that we tighten things up,” she said.
Offensively, Husson makes its living getting to the foul line often, where it should a league-high 578 free throws (23.1 per game) this season.
In the late game, the Mariners hope to reach the championship game for the sixth time in seven seasons.
MMA, which bowed out in the quarterfinals a year ago, has rebounded with a lineup dominated by underclassmen. The Mariners dropped a 70-59 overtime decision at Castleton on Jan. 23, then responded with a 52-50 home win a week ago.
“Things have slowly but surely come together,” Dagan said. “Offensively, it’s been a struggle, to be quite frank, but the good thing is that the kids have bought into everything that we need to do defensively in order to be successful and we’re playing as good as anybody at that end of the floor so we’re pretty happy with that.”
Leaders for MMA include sophomore forward Sam Goda of Eliot (10.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg), sophomore guard Maggie Smith of Bath (8.8 ppg, .759 FT pct.) and junior guard Katie Pushard of Winthrop (4.6 ppg, 3.0 apg).
Castleton State, coached by Tim Barrett, bounced back after six key graduation losses. The Spartans are led by sophomore guards Christine Jaques (11.3 ppg, .402 3-pt. FG pct.) and Vanessa Powers (9.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg), and senior guard Katie Hoxsie (6.7 ppg, 4.0 apg, 2.6 spg).
Castleton tied with MMA, allowing a league-low 54.5 ppg in NAC games.