This might have figured to be a transition season for the women’s basketball programs at Bowdoin College and the University of Southern Maine.
While both returned veteran nucleuses of players, each also welcomed a new head coach and new coaching staffs.
In spite of the changes, both tradition-rich teams are back in the field for the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball National Championship.
The Polar Bears of Brunswick and the Huskies from Gorham will be in action Friday in first-round games to open the 63-team tournament.
Bowdoin will host the first-and second-round games, taking on North Atlantic Conference champion Castleton (Vt.) State (17-11) in Friday’s 7 p.m. contest. Muhlenberg (24-3) of Allentown, Pa., and Westfield (Mass.) State (22-4) square off in Friday’s 5 p.m. opener.
Little East Conference champion Southern Maine (22-6) will be on the road Friday, facing Emmanuel College of Boston (21-7) at Amherst, Mass. The host Lord Jeffs (25-2) play Babson (20-8) of Babson Park, Mass.
USM is in the NCAA tournament field for the 15th consecutive season and the 23rd time since joining the NCAA in 1985. The Huskies, coached by Ellsworth native Mike McDevitt, have a healthy tourney pedigree, having finished as the national runner-up in 1998, 2000 and 2006 and taking third place in 2005 and fourth place in 1988.
USM lost a first-round game to Brandeis last season.
The Huskies feature a handful of former Maine high school standouts, including sophomore forward Kristi Violette of Readfield and junior guard Nicole Paradis of Skowhegan. Freshman forward Courtney Cochran of Waite and Woodland High, and Becky Dixon of Pittston (Gardiner) also are on the ballclub.
Bowdoin won the New England Small College Athletic Conference crown in its first season under head coach Adrienne Shibles, a Knox native who played her high school ball at Mount View in Thorndike.
The Polar Bears are in the NCAA tournament for the ninth consecutive season and have reached the Elite Eight six of the last seven years. Bowdoin, the national runner-up in 2004, reached the second round a year ago.
The Polar Bears receive key contributions from several instate standouts, including sophomore guard Katie Bergeron of Bradley (Old Town), junior forward Caitlin Hynes of Owls Head (Rockland), junior guard Sabrina Cote of Dexter and freshman Amy Hackett of Bangor.
Senior guard Alexa Kaubris of Rumford and freshman guard Jill Henrikson of Bath (Morse) also play key roles for Bowdoin.
The University of New England of Biddeford also qualified for postseason play in the ECAC Division III New England Women’s Basketball Championship. The Nor’easters of the Commonwealth Coast Conference earned the No. 5 seed in the eight-team event and play at No. 4 Keene (N.H.) State on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Former John Bapst standout Hillary Laferriere of Veazie, Kelley Paradis of Newport (Nokomis) and Megan Gilbert of Fairfield (Lawrence) are eastern Maine players on the UNE roster.