The floor at Husson University’s Newman Gymnasium wasn’t as crowded as usual during Thursday’s practice session for the women’s basketball team.
The Eagles are coming off one of the most noteworthy victories in program history on Sunday as they knocked off eighth-ranked Chicago 64-59 at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennesee.
But the victory was a costly one as 6-foot junior center Sami Ireland of Howland, the team’s top rebounder and second-leading scorer, suffered a knee injury that could sideline her indefinitely. She will be evaluated later this week.
Husson had already lost promising freshman guard and Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team selection Emily Wheaton of Presque Isle and energetic junior guard-forward Barrett Campbell of Saco to season-ending knee injuries.
If the Eagles are to claim their fourth straight North Atlantic Conference championship, they will have to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to the rest of the season.
Husson (5-5 overall, 2-0 NAC) plays conference games at the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and on Tuesday hosts top-ranked Bowdoin College of Brunswick.
Head coach Kissy Walker will have to speed up the learning curve of newcomers and inexperienced players while also relying on veterans such as All-NAC first-teamer Kenzie Worcester to provide stability, leadership and quality play.
“It’s a rough way to have the season go, but our philosophy has always been everybody plays an important role on the team, so it’s the next man up at this point,” said senior guard Worcester, a Washburn native who on Sunday became the program’s No. 2 career scorer with 1,541 points.
Worcester believes the team can overcome the loss of their injured players and earn another NCAA Division III tournament berth.
“We have a lot of girls who work real hard in practice. We still have what it takes,” said Worcester, who is averaging 20.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 steals.
“It’s really sad to see three of your teammates who all played such big roles [get injured]. There will be a lot of adjustments, but I think we can do it,” junior guard Logan Huckins of Calais said. “We have really good team chemistry, and we have girls who will be able to step into those roles.”
One player who will be thrust into a more elevated role will be 6-foot sophomore player and former Dexter High star Megan Peach of Garland.
“I’m going to get more minutes, so I’m going to have to step up. It’s going to be tough to fill Sami’s spot, but that’s what I’m going to try to do,” said Peach, who is Husson’s second-leading rebounder behind Ireland, averaging 6.5 per game in 15.4 minutes of playing time.
Ireland is averaging 11.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Walker said Worcester has continued to amaze with her continued improvement.
“Every year, she has stepped up her game,” Walker said. “You wondered if she could after she had the season she had last year, but her scoring average has gone up. Even though everybody knows about her, she still continues to get the job done.
“Hopefully, the other kids will step up and will draw a little more attention and that will help Kenzie get a little more open at times,” Walker said.
Walker, in her 28th season at Husson, said she was encouraged by her team’s performance in its win over Chicago. She said it was the first time one of her team’s had beaten a top-10 team.
Walker pointed out that Husson beat a 9-1 UMaine-Fort Kent team 60-48 on Dec. 14 without Worcester, who was sidelined by a concussion, and that gave her players confidence, which they took into the Nashville tournament.
“When the shot clock was winding down in the Chicago game, the girls weren’t just looking to hand the ball off to Kenzie. They were taking it to the the hoop and taking shots,” Walker said.
The players said the Chicago win has given them a big shot of confidence. It came after a lackluster performance the previous night in a 60-42 loss to Saint Benedict.
“We weren’t on the same page the first night, but we had a talk and we were ready to play against Chicago. We connected,” said Huckins, who complemented Worcester’s 23-point performance against Chicago with 19 points.
“That was the best we have played, collectively, all year,” Peach said. “We had a consistent effort for the whole game.”
Huckins and sophomore guard Emma Alley of Millinocket are each averaging 6.5 points per game, and Peach is averaging 6.4 points. Veteran junior guard-forward Joan Overman of Washburn is contributing 4.4 points and 5.3 rebounds, and freshman Sydney Allen of Corinth has averaged 4 points.
They will all log more minutes as will freshman guard Vanessa Duarte (3.3 ppg) and junior guard Nicole Tapparo (2 ppg, 2.1 apg). Walker said she will probably move freshman guard Braylee Wildman (1.3 ppg) of Hampden into the post, while 6-3 freshman Andrea Crosby of Brooks is another option inside.
“We’re going to have to get a little bit more out of each player and focus on trying to improve every day,” Walker said. “We want to be peaking at the end of the season.”