On Monday morning, as they awaited word on their teams’ pairings for the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship, Husson University coach Kissy Walker and Colby College coach Lori Gear McBride exchanged emails offering congratulations and any assistance they might provide in each other’s preparations.
When the NCAA released the pairings for the 64-team tournament, both were surprised to learn their teams would be playing each other.
“She [Walker] thought she was going to be shipped out to [top-ranked] Amherst,” McBride said. “Then when it came out, we were both kind of surprised and laughed because it wasn’t what we expected.”
Husson University of Bangor and Colby College of Waterville are among five Maine women’s teams and one men’s squad that have earned their way into NCAA tournament field.
The New England Small College Athletic Conference runner-up Mules and the North Atlantic Conference champion Eagles play Friday at 7 p.m. in Colby’s Wadsworth Gym.
“We like playing at home, that’s for sure, and we consider it a great advantage,” McBride said. “Our fan base has grown as we’ve started to give people a product that doesn’t disappoint.”
Perennial regional powers Bowdoin College of Brunswick and the University of Southern Maine of Gorham, along with the University of New England of Biddeford, also will compete in the tournament, which begins Friday on the home courts of the highest-seeded teams.
Bowdoin (20-6) joins NESCAC rival Colby as a host. Coach Adrienne Shibles’ Polar Bears earned an at-large bid and face Baruch University of New York (23-5) in Friday’s 7 p.m. first-round game at Merrill Gym in Brunswick.
That also is the site of Friday’s 5 p.m. first-round game between Commonwealth Coast Conference titlist UNE (23-5) and Western Connecticut (22-5) of the NESCAC.
USM (20-8) also earned an at-large selection and hits the road for Friday’s 4 p.m. first-round contest against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (17-10) at Amherst, Mass. Coach Gary Fifield’s Huskies earned their 16th consecutive NCAA bid.
In the Division III men’s ranks, the University of Maine-Farmington, the North Atlantic Conference Champion, secured a bid by virtue of the league’s automatic qualifier.
Coach Dick Meader’s Beavers (14-11) travel to Bridgewater State (19-7) for a first-round contest Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Husson men also have advanced to postseason play. Coach Warren Caruso’s Eagles (15-11), who lost to Green Mountain College in the semifinals of the NAC tournament, are playing in the ECAC Tournament.
Husson is the No. 6 seed and faces No. 3 Plymouth State (16-10) of the Little East Conference on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Plymouth, N.H.
Colby players and coaches gathered Monday on campus to watch the selection show.
“It was fun because we got to be together and hear our name called together and everybody kind of went crazy and screamed and were really excited,” said McBride, who guided the Mules to the program’s first NCAA appearance.
Colby also is familiar with Husson, having beaten the Eagles during the regular season. Husson has won 16 straight since that meeting.
Walker said Husson players also were pleased about taking on the Mules.
“We’ll probably get a bigger crowd down there and the kids were actually happy that it was going to be pretty close by,” said Walker, whose team makes Husson’s second NCAA tourney appearance in six years.
The Eagles had a short but spirited practice Monday, two days after beating Castleton State for the NAC crown.
In Waterville, it was a historic day for the Colby women’s program, one of five NESCAC teams to make the NCAAs.
“The girls work so hard and they really deserve the success they’ve had this season,” said McBride, who explained the magnitude of the moment really hit home for Mules senior Alison Cappelloni.
“She kind of remembered when I was recruiting her and that we talked about the vision and some of the things that we wanted to do here,” McBride said. “It’s nice to see that they’re finally coming true for her.