There is likely to be a “nothing to lose” attitude embraced by the members of the University of Maine-Fort Kent basketball teams today as they compete in their respective NAIA Division II national championship tournaments.
At Sioux City, Iowa, the Bengal women play a 2:45 p.m. contest against No. 1 seed Hastings College (Neb.).
At Point Lookout, Mo., the UMFK men’s team takes on No. 1 Walsh University of North Canton, Ohio, in a 10:15 a.m. first-round contest.
This marks the sixth appearance in the nationals by the UMFK women. Coach Lucas Levesque’s Bengals (19-8) won another Sunrise Conference championship, winning 14 of their last 16 games, to earn a spot in the 32-team event that will be held at the Tyson Events Center/Gateway Arena.
UMFK, which is 0-7 in national tournament play, ranks first in NAIA Division II, having allowed only 50.3 points per game.
The Bengals are paced by senior forward Kristen Violette of Eagle Lake, who is averaging 17.0 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field. Senior guard Talisha Herring has provided 12.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest.
UMFK features plenty of balance with contributions from freshman guard Morgan Chasse of Veazie (9.8 ppg, 2.1 spg), sophomore forward Maliesha Caesar (8.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg), junior guard Amber Garrison (7.8 ppg, 3.7 apg, .739 FT percentage), junior forward Angela Norsworthy of Presque Isle (7.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg), and sophomore forward Phyllis Fortune (6.1 ppg).
The Bengals may have their hands full trying to contain a Hastings ballclub (30-3) that is an offensive juggernaut.
The Great Plains Athletic Conference champions rank No. 1 in the NAIA in 3-point field-goal percentage (.399) and are second in free-throw percentage (.768). Hastings also ranks fourth in field-goal percentage (.467) and assists (554).
The Broncos have six players averaging at least eight points per game, led by 6-1 center Lindsay Ducey (19.2 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.5 spg). Alicia Statler, a 6-1 post player, averages 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots.
Hastings also looks to forward Heather McKeon (10.5 ppg, .430 3-pt. pct., .884 FT pct.), guard Kim Faimon (9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.9 spg) and Rachel Isherwood (9.0 ppg, 2.4 spg).
The UMFK men are making the program’s first trip to the NAIA nationals. The Bengals and Cavaliers met during the 2008-09 season in Fort Kent, where Walsh won 86-55.
Coach Eric Werntgen’s Bengals (21-8) have featured a well-rounded offensive attack, with five players averaging in double figures this season.
Senior guard Jimmy Lopez and sophomore forward Brandon Fox (8.6 rpg) spearhead the offense, averaging 15.8 points each. Sophomore point guard Manny Odugbela (13.6 ppg, 2.8 apg) is another key contributor, as are sophomore Jeremy Thomas (11.2 ppg, 1.4 spg), junior Othniel Hyliger (11.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .541 FG pct.) and junior Alan Campbell of Madawaska (8.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
And while UMFK is an accomplished rebounding team, ranking fifth nationally in rebound margin (8.9) and sixth in rebounds per game (42.6), its opponent is rebounding machine.
Powerhouse Walsh, which won the American Mideast Conference South Division, is the top rebounding team in the country. The Cavaliers rank in the top four in 16 statistical categories, including first in rebounds per game (48.1), rebound margin (17.8), scoring margin (31.2), field-goal percentage (.513) and field-goal percentage defense (.372).
Walsh, which has won nine straight, has scored more than 100 points nine times this season, including 154 in a Dec. 4 contest. They have made 208 3-pointers.
The big force is 6-7 forward Ricky Jackson (23.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, .607 FG pct., .403 3-pt. FG pct., .790 FT pct.). He is joined by the likes of Lamar Skeeter (13.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.6 apg), Eric Schiele (10.8 ppg), Jeremy Shardo (10.2 ppg, 6.4 apg) and Brandon Speck (10.1 ppg), who has made 75 3-pointers.
Both UMFK squads likely will have to play the game of their lives to knock off their top-seeded counterparts.