Maine Maritime Academy of Castine has spent the last three seasons trying to re-establish itself as a power in the North Atlantic Conference women’s basketball ranks.
Coach Craig Dagan’s Mariners, who took a step in the right direction last season while going 16-10, 11-3 in NAC play, hope to find that championship chemistry this season.
MMA has welcomed back its top nine players from that team. With significant experience and considerable depth, the Mariners have the potential to put it all together.
“Last year raised the expectation level coming into this year,” said Dagan, who is in his 10th season with the program. “Now, it’s time for us to take that quantum leap and get back to where we feel like we should be every single year.”
MMA, which was 2-3 going into Wednesday night’s home game against the University of Maine-Machias, still has some things to work out. Dagan said it comes down to some key intangibles.
“They’re realizing that it takes an awful lot of hard work in order for this to come to fruition,” he explained. “I’m happy with the direction we’re headed.”
With a small squad that has only one player taller than 5-foot-9, Dagan has implemented a new offensive philosophy. MMA is trying to establish an identity as an uptempo team that will try to take advantage of its different offensive weapons.
“We’re just running and gunning,” said Dagan, who said his team is starting to appreciate that the first shot isn’t always the best shot.
The Mariners have a proven force in the frontcourt in junior forward Sam Goda of Eliot.
Goda is averaging a team-leading 16.6 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field.
“If we had one (a go-to player), she would be the one kid that we would look to, to do things on the offensive end of the floor,” said Dagan, who has challenged her to improve her defense.
MMA relies heavily on its junior class, which includes guards Maggie Smith of West Bath (8.0 ppg, .400 3-pt. pct.) and Brittany Hunt (.389 3-pt. pct) and forward Amethyst Cousins of Bass Harbor (5.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
The Mariners also look to senior point guard and captain Katie Pushard of Winthrop (2.8 assists per game) and senior forward Jess Stahl of Bowdoin (5.8 ppg, .619 FG pct.) for leadership and consistency.
“I keep telling them we can be really good if we play together and they’re starting to figure that out,” said Dagan, who is seeing strong leadership from the upperclassmen.
“This is the first year (since 2006-07) that we’ve had some depth and some leadership from kids who know how to take young kids and show them the way,” Dagan said.
He said the Mariners should be able to score in bunches and receive contributions from several different players.
“The significant jump we’ve made this year is the ability to spread the floor and shoot the basketball,” Dagan said. “I’ve dreaded the fact that teams would play us zone in the past but now we’ve got kids that can open things up and shoot the ball from the perimeter.”
Dagan admits MMA’s offensive consistency hasn’t been there quite yet.
MMA should be able to utilize its bench with contributions from sophomores Casey McCloskey of Howland (4.4 ppg, 4.1 apg), Casey Everest of Portland (3.2 ppg), Courtney Dufour of Augusta and Leah Jackson of Dedham.
The team also includes Kari Jones of Nobleboro, Andi Flannery of East Machias, Alyssa Severance of Hollis Center, Ariel Knights of Brookton and Kayley Rodriguez. Senior Katie Hutchinson of Dixfield is out for the season with a knee injury.