BANGOR — Division III basketball in Maine spans a handful of different levels.
The state is home to teams from the New England Small College Athletic Conference, the North Atlantic Conference, The Commonwealth Coast Conference, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, the Sunrise Conference and the Yankee Small College Conference.
Fans who want to see how teams from some of those leagues match up need only head to Newman Gymnasium in Bangor beginning Friday as Husson University hosts the annual Paul Bunyan Tournaments.
The Bunyan tourney has been a December fixture at the Bangor institution since the 1970s. It is the 43rd edition of the men’s tournament.
“It’s such a rich part of our history,” said Husson men’s coach Warren Caruso. “We enjoy that aspect of the tournament. It think it has become a special event for our program.”
Over the years, most of the teams in the Bunyan tourney have played either with each other in the same league or against each other in nonconference play. Caruso said the event helps keep the programs connected.
“We certainly think it’s a positive way for us to keep state schools that we’ve had a longstanding scheduling relationship with on our schedule since we’ve gone Division III,” Caruso said.
The women’s event kicks off the weekend with two games Friday as Bates College of Lewiston meets the University of Maine-Presque Isle at 5:30 p.m., while the Husson Eagles and UMaine-Fort Kent play at 7:30.
The women’s tournament will follow a “classic” format and will not determine a champion. It concludes Saturday with Bates and UMFK playing at 1 p.m. and Husson taking on UMPI at 3 p.m.
Husson women’s coach Kissy Walker said because UMPI and UMFK play each other during the regular season, and since Bates and Husson played earlier this week, it made sense to pair teams that wouldn’t otherwise have played this season.
“It’s all Maine teams, so hopefully we’ll have some fans,” Walker said. “There’ll be a lot of Maine players that people have seen in high school who will be playing (here) this weekend.”
The men’s event tips off Saturday and the teams will play for the Paul Bunyan championship. The University of New England of Biddeford and UMFK play the 5:30 p.m. opener, with Husson and UMaine-Machias to square off at 7:30.
The losers will play in Sunday’s 1 p.m. consolation contest, while the winners advance to the 3 p.m. title game.
“I think any time you can put yourself in tournament play, where you’re playing for a championship, it helps prepare you for the second half of the season,” Caruso said.
Caruso said Saturday’s 3 p.m. women’s game and Sunday’s 3 p.m. men’s championship both will be broadcast on MPBN-TV with production done by the students and staff of the New England School of Communications.
“With NESCOM, we’re looking hopefully as we move forward to try to expand some of those opportunities because they can provide their production at no cost, so to speak, for the TV station that’s interested in doing it,” Caruso explained.
The Husson women of the NAC are hoping to generate some momentum after losing their first three games. The Eagles’ mainstays include forward Bree Hanscom of Mattawamkeag (16 ppg, 8 rpg, 3.7 apg) and Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan (10.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
“It’s exciting to be playing at home back to back,” Walker said. “And having it in conjunction with the men’s tournament should provide some energy.”
Husson first plays a UMFK women’s team (0-2) that is playing a challenging nonleague schedule. Coach Lucas Levesque’s Bengals have won three straight Sunrise Conference titles and have advanced to the NAIA Division II National Tournament.
UMFK is paced by Maliesha Caesar (13.5 ppg, 16.5 rpg) and Quintina Young (8.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg).
UMPI (1-2), also a Sunrise member, has played some tough early games. Coach Tracy Guerrette’s ballclub looks to Rashell Saucier of Washburn (9.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Emily Pelletier of Fort Kent (7.7 ppg) to set the tone.
Coach Jim Murphy’s Bates team returns to Bangor for the second time this week after edging Husson 84-79 on Monday night. He pointed to the friendliness and professionalism of the folks at Husson as making it an easy to decision to play the Eagles and compete in their tournament.
The Bobcats (4-1), out of the powerhouse NESCAC, are led by 6-foot-3 post player Jessie Igoe (13 points, 4.6 rebounds per game) and guard Allie Beaulieu (10.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg).
In the men’s tournament, the Husson men (3-1) look to build off Wednesday night’s 81-78 win over Saint Joseph’s College of Standish.
The Eagles have a balanced lineup that features Josh Jones of Jefferson (14 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 4 apg), Jay Uhrin of Winterport (18.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Eric Modica (12.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.0 spg).
Husson awaits a balanced UMaine-Machias men’s team (5-2), coached by Brac Brady, that leans heavily on Zach Armstrong of Waldoboro (15.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Hampton Mack (12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Will Lewis (12.1 ppg).
Coach Eric Werntgen’s UMaine-Fort Kent squad will arrive in Bangor with a 5-2 record. The Bengals’ catalysts include Manny Odugbela (19 ppg), Kevin Loiselle (15.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Emiliano Void (11.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.9 spg).
The Bengals and the Clippers play in the Sunrise Conference of the NAIA Division II ranks.
UNE, coached by Jason Mulligan, has struggled to a 1-6 start. The Nor’easters, out of the CCC, get their spark from Chas Rentrope (18 ppg, 5 rpg, 5 spg), Marcus Winn (14.9 ppg) and Ryan Knotek (9.9 ppg, 6.7).