BANGOR, Maine — When you ask the members of the Husson University women’s basketball team about the keys to their success this season, they are quick to respond.
It has little or nothing to do with who can score, rebound or play defense. It has more to do with what happens behind the scenes, according to junior Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan.
“It starts in the locker room,” Sevey said. “We have no cliques, everyone gets along really well. And, since we’ve played so many games this year, it translates onto the court.”
The camaraderie of this group has been evident during its 16-game winning streak, which has propelled coach Kissy Walker’s Eagles (19-8) to the North Atlantic Conference championship and a spot in the NCAA Division III national tournament.
“We have great team chemistry this year,” said senior co-captain Lindsay Barnes of Owls Head. “We’ve got a smaller team and everybody’s working really hard. It’s been good.”
Husson also hopes it continues to mesh on the court as it prepares for Friday’s 7 p.m. NCAA first-round game against Colby College at Wadsworth Gymnasium in Waterville.
“We’re excited,” Barnes said. “Everyone knows their role. They’re going in, they know exactly what they need to do.”
The Eagles displayed their unselfishness and balance during the NAC tournament. Nine players logged 11 minutes or more in the title game against Castleton State with six scoring at least eight points.
The team plays well together because team members get along. That has helped Husson remain focused on its mission all season.
“I can’t say enough about them. It’s been a great, easy group to coach,” said Walker, who has had virtually no off-court issues with this ballclub.
“They’re friends. They’re funny because sometimes they can kid with each other and be blunt about things and it’s not really taken the wrong way.”
The Eagles aren’t without stars. Senior forward Shelby Bradford of Lee was the NAC Player of the Year for the second year in a row, while sophomore forward Bree Hanscom of Mattawamkeag was an All-NAC first-team pick for the second consecutive season.
Bradford is averaging 16.5 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.3 steals while Hanscom has contributed 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds. Both are shooting 51 percent from the field.
Last weekend, Bradford was contained by Husson’s opponents, scoring only 11 points in the semifinals and finals. While she was disappointed, she had the utmost confidence in her teammates.
“If one person has a bad night — I’ve had a couple bad nights here in a row — someone else is always going to step up,” Bradford said. “There’s other people scoring. It’s a good balance.”
The Eagles demonstrated in convincing fashion how versatile they are. Shooting guard Sevey (10.4 ppg), sophomore point guard Amanda Gifford of Lee (8.6 ppg, 3.1 apg), junior shooting guard Noelle Lincoln of Dixmont (6.1 ppg) and Barnes (4.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg) all have been mainstays.
Husson has also received strong contributions from the likes of junior point guard Caitlyn Butterfield of Gorham, freshman guard Kelli Murray of Shawmut, freshman guard-forward Erica Lyford of LaGrange and sophomore guard Marissa Albert of Fort Kent.
Freshman guard Katie Durgin of Levant, freshman guard-forward Megan Murray of Embden and sophomore forward Katie Kenney of Orrington also are part of the mix.
“Everybody has confidence in everybody,” said Gifford, who transferred from Bates College in Lewiston. “We’ve made such a connection this year and we’ve really become a strong team.”
Talent, depth, unselfishness and commitment have paved the way to Husson’s success.
The Eagles developed those qualities with the help of a testy nonconference schedule that included No. 2-ranked Kean University, No. 23 Colby, Bowdoin, Cortland State, Southern Maine, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of New England.
Those teams have something important in common.
“Eight of the 11 out-of-conference teams we played are going to the [postseason] tournament, seven to the NCAA,” said Walker, whose team also played Sunrise Conference winner UMaine-Fort Kent.
“It’s nice I can say to the kids, we played No. 2 in the country and we stayed with them for half,” she added. “It’s been fun.”