Husson University women’s basketball coach Kissy Walker said that in 29 seasons at the Bangor school she has never had a team with as much height as this one.
And there is plenty of talent to go with that height.
The Eagles feature two veteran 6-footers in senior Sami Ireland and junior Megan Peach, both of whom earned All-North Atlantic Conference second-team honors last season. They are joined by 6-foot-3 freshman Bailey Donovan, who already has twice been named the NAC Rookie of the Week, and 6-foot freshman Eri Lawrence, who has a lot of upside.
Ireland, Peach and Donovan, who all are from eastern Maine, have been key performers for Husson, which plays Division I neighbor the University of Maine at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Donovan, a former Bangor Daily News All-Maine second-team selection Donovan from Hampden Academy, has burst onto the college scene in dramatic fashion.
She has come off the bench in all four games for the 1-3 Eagles and is averaging 17.5 points, 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots, all team highs.
“She is playing better than she did in high school,” Walker said. “Part of that is going up against somebody close to her size in practice every day.”
Ireland, a former star at Penobscot Valley High of Howland, was an All-NAC second-team pick in 2018, is the team’s No. 2 scorer (9.8 ppg). She is also chipping in 3.8 rebounds after playing only 10 games last winter before undergoing season-ending knee surgery.
Peach, a former Dexter High standout from Garland, has averaged 7.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in 22 minutes per contest.
“They are all impact players. They all bring something a little different,” Walker said.
They can score in the paint and rebound, but Walker added they can all hit jump shots in the 8-to-10-foot range.
Floridian Lawrence is still making the transition from high school and has seen limited action (8.5 minutes per game) so far.
Walker said strength training has made Donovan stronger and quicker, while Peach had made significant strides defensively, and Ireland has good reactions going after the ball.
“Eri sets the best pick in the pick and roll on the team, and she has good court sense,” Walker said.
The 6-footers said being on a team with this much height is a new experience for them but a beneficial one.
“This is really weird for me. I’ve never really been small in comparison [to my teammates],” said Ireland, who now has more freedom to play on the perimeter.
“It’s always better to practice harder than you have to play,” Peach said.
Donovan is drawing off the experience of the upperclassmen, which has helped her adjust to college ball.
“They have been giving me little hints, and that has been good. There’s a big difference in the intensity level between college and high school,” she said.
Walker said having depth in the frontcourt is valuable because if one of them gets in foul trouble or is having an off night, one of the others can pick up the slack. It also means a change of offensive focus.
“It means we can have a post-oriented offense, which isn’t something we had in the past because we had talented guards,” Ireland said. “Not only are we going to get scoring opportunities, I had never been an assist generator before but now I am. It’s exciting.”
The past four years, Husson’s offense revolved around guards who were chosen NAC Player of the Year: Victoria McIntyre (2015-16), Chandler Guerrette (2016-17) and Kenzie Worcester last season.
Worcester graduated as the school’s No. 2 career scorer with 1,869 points and dished out 341 assists, grabbed 547 rebounds and made 226 steals.
“Kenzie is a big loss,” Ireland said. “But with all our various sizes and abilities, everyone has something to offer. I think we’re going to have a really strong season and postseason.”
“A huge portion of our points came from one person. We’re going to be more well rounded,” Peach said.
Husson has a stable of experienced guards, and Walker hopes they can score consistently from the outside to open up the inside game for the “bigs.” On the flip side, if the post players can score inside, that will create more open perimeter shots for the guards.
The guards include senior all-around performer Joan Overman of Washburn, who has averaged 6.1 points, 6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.6 assists so far this season.
Millinocket junior Emma Alley (8.3 ppg, 3 apg) is the point guard, and Corinth sophomore Sydney Allen (8 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3 rpg, 2.3 spg) also is off to an impressive start.
Sophomore Vanessa Duarte (3.5 ppg, 2.5 apg) is the only other player averaging more than nine minutes per game (19.3).
Husson, the NAC preseason favorite, seeks its fifth straight conference championship.