BANGOR, Maine — There was no wild celebration on the Husson University sideline Saturday afternoon at Newman Gym.
No one would have blamed the top-seeded Eagles for whooping it up after cruising to a comfortable 80-69 victory over defending champion and No. 3 seed Castleton State to win the North Atlantic Conference women’s basketball title.
Instead, coach Kissy Walker’s team demonstrated the same calm demeanor in victory that it has used to win 16 consecutive games en route to its first NAC championship.
“We’re a pretty composed team, we don’t really jump around that much,” said senior co-captain Lindsay Barnes of Owls Head. “I think that’s what’s been one of our strong points is we don’t get too excited, we stay calm and play hard.”
Husson (19-8) awaits word on its opponent in next week’s NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship. The pairings will be announced Monday at 12:30 p.m.
It will be the second NCAA appearance for Husson, which earned an at-large bid in 2004 before the NAC had an automatic qualifier.
“I think our goal all along was to get to the next level,” said junior Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan. “I feel like we’re very professional. We go about it and get our jobs done and we work hard. This is what we aimed for.”
Husson demonstrated its resolve right off the opening tip. Sevey’s 3-pointer 20 seconds into the contest sparked a 13-2 run that put the Eagles in charge for good.
Husson featured a well-balanced attack while extending its advantage to 18 points. Castleton State (Vt.) was forced to play catch-up, but couldn’t match the Eagles’ intensity and execution at both ends.
Sophomore point guard Amanda Gifford of Lee scored all 11 of her points in the first half and also headed up Husson’s full-court pressure. She finished with six assists and three steals on her way to the tournament MVP award.
Gifford, who transferred to Husson after spending last season at Bates, fed off her teammates’ determination to win after being in the same position against the Spartans last year.
“Even though I wasn’t here last year, I could feel their need for revenge this year,” she said. “It possessed the whole team and that was big, too, because when you’re playing with a lot of emotion, you’re going to be intense and that was really our focus today.”
Joining Gifford on the all-tourney team is teammate Bree Hanscom of Mattawamkeag, who had six points and five rebounds.
Sevey led all scorers with 18 points, including 11 in the second half. Caitlyn Butterfield of Gorham added 10 points, Shelby Bradford of Lee contributed nine points, nine rebounds and five assists, and Lindsay Barnes of Owls Head chipped in with nine points, six rebounds and four steals.
“You always think that you need to stop Hanscom and Bradford on the inside and I think we did OK at that,” said Castleton coach Tim Barrett, “but their other players stepped up and they made shots and they played well as a team and they’re most deserving of the NAC championship.”
Tarryn Bolognani paced the Spartans (17-11) with 16 points and Katie Hoxsie netted 12 points on their way to all-tourney honors. Christine Jaques added 14 points.
Caitlyn Laflin of UMaine-Farmington and Kelsi Eiane of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine also were named to the all-tournament team.
The Eagles came out with tremendous intensity and seized the momentum. A steal by Bradford led to Sevey’s 3-pointer off a Gifford assist to put Husson ahead for good.
Hanscom converted a move in the lane and Bradford sank two foul shots before Megan Johnson put Castleton on the board with a foul-line jumper. However, Gifford countered with a 3-pointer off a Hanscom feed and then cashed in her own steal with a conventional three-point play that gave Husson a 13-2 lead with 15:44 left.
“They played well today,” Walker said. “I really think [Friday’s] game, where it was a close game and kind of tough, helped us out today.”
The Spartans twice cut the deficit to 10 points, but Gifford scored five points to spearhead an 8-0 run that gave Husson a 37-19 advantage with 4:36 to play in the half.
Despite a determined effort by a gritty Castleton ballclub, the outcome was never in doubt after that.
Husson shot 48 percent from the floor, including 57 percent in the second half. The Eagles outrebounded Castleton 33-16.
Other contributions came from Noelle Lincoln of Dixmont, Erica Lyford of LaGrange, Kellie Murray of Shawmut and Marissa Albert of Fort Kent.