Four Maine teams qualify for NCAA Div. III tournament

Posted Feb. 28, 2011, at 7:13 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 28, 2011, at 11:10 p.m.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick will have the distinction as the only Maine team to host a first-round game when the NCAA Division III basketball championships begin later this week.

The Polar Bears are among three programs from Maine and four out of the New England Small College Athletic Conference to earn berths in the women’s tournament. They will be joined by Husson University of Bangor and Colby College of Waterville.

Husson was the only instate school to qualify for the men’s tourney.

Bowdoin (22-5) earned an at-large berth into the 64-team tournament after finishing as the NESCAC runner-up. Amherst beat the Polar Bears 72-37 in the title game.

It marks the 11th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament for Bowdoin, which has won at least one game each of the last 10 seasons. That is the longest streak in Division III basketball.

Coach Adrienne Shibles’ Polar Bears face Salve Regina (25-3), the Commonwealth Coast Conference winner, in a 7 p.m. first-round game Friday at Morrell Gymnasium. The winner advances to play the team that prevails in the 5 p.m. matchup between Emmanuel (21-7) and Mount St. Mary of New York (25-2) on Saturday.

Bowdoin’s roster includes senior guard Katie Bergeron of Bradley and junior guard Amy Hackett of Bangor.

Coach Kissy Walker’s Husson women will make their second straight NCAA tourney appearance. The Eagles (16-11) earned the North Atlantic Conference automatic bid Saturday with a 67-53 victory over Castleton State.

Husson will trek to Amherst, Mass., for a Friday contest against event host Amherst (26-1), the NESCAC champion and No. 2 team in the nation. Eastern Connecticut (20-8) of the Little East Conference and Baruch (23-5), the winner of the City University of New York Athletic Conference, clash in the other first-round game there.

The winners play Saturday at the same site.

Husson is making the program’s seventh trip to the national tournament under Walker. The Eagles played three NCAA entries this season, losing to Bowdoin, Colby College of Waterville and Salve Regina.

Husson’s mainstays include seniors Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan, Caitlyn Butterfield of Gorham and Noelle Lincoln of Dixmont and juniors Amanda Gifford of Lee and Bree Hanscom of Mattawamkeag.

“Defense and confidence (were the keys to the season),” Sevey said. “We had to have confidence in each other and confidence that we could get it done on the floor.”

Colby claimed an at-large bid after earning the No. 2 seed in the NESCAC and dropping a semifinal game to Bowdoin. The Mules (21-5) of interim head coach Christine Clancy are in the tournament for the second year in a row.

Colby plays Friday against Empire 8 Conference champ Stevens Institute of Technology (2-16) at 7 p.m. at William Patterson University in Wayne, N.J. William Paterson (24-3), the New Jersey Athletic Conference titlist, faces North Eastern Athletic Conference winner Keuka College (24-2) in the other opening-round game there.

The Mules have key Maine contributors in junior Rachael Mack of Augusta and Aarika Ritchie of Lee.

The University of Southern Maine of Gorham had a lengthy NCAA tournament streak snapped when it failed to earn a berth.

Coach Gary Fifield’s Huskies went 16-10 this season, losing tourney-bound Eastern Connecticut in the semifinals of the Little East Conference tournament last weekend.

This marks the first time since 1996 USM has not reached the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship, snapping a streak of 14 seasons. Prior to that, the Huskies had qualified the previous eight years, meaning USM has reached the tournament in 24 of the last 26 seasons.

During that span, the Huskies have made 16 Sweet 16 appearances, 10 trips to the Elite Eight and five visits to the Final Four, including three national runner-up finishes.

In the men’s tournament, coach Warren Caruso’s Eagles (21-6) head to Williamstown, Mass., for Friday’s first-round contest against Williams College (25-2). The Ephs, who were ranked No. 1 in the country prior to last weekend’s games, finished as the NESCAC runners-up.

Becker (23-4) and Scranton (20-5) square off in Friday’s other first-round game. The winners advance to Saturday’s second-round contest.

Husson advanced by winning its second North Atlantic Conference championship in three years Saturday with an 84-73 victory over Lyndon State. The Eagles are making their eighth NCAA appearance in 17 years and the program’s 15th overall.

“You look back at starting the year with two players with more than 25 games of college experience, Caruso said. “We didn’t know quite where we’d end up. We had a lot of confidence with the talent and skills of this group and they deserve the credit for really coming along and really trusting and believing what we were giving them in the program and in the system.”

Husson looks to seniors Josh Jones of Jefferson and Jay Urhin of Winterport, along with sophomore Erica Modica of Kittery, to lead the way.

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