GORHAM – Karl Henrikson’s men’s basketball team at the University of Southern Maine has won six of its first eight Little East Conference games and is tied for second in the standings. His players can dream of hosting a postseason game for the first time in their memories.
Better yet, they could thumb their noses at those who picked USM to finish last. Henrikson shook his head. No one needs an attitude readjustment, he said. Not in this group.
“They know what it feels like to have the rug pulled out from under them at a moment’s notice. They’re only concerned about winning the next game.”
Henrikson’s words weren’t coach-speak. The USM men have endured one calamity after another for three seasons. Injuries, academic ineligibility, individual financial woes. It’s difficult to play ball when you don’t know if you have enough money to pay for second semester. Patchwork lineups led to mismatches on the court at times.
“These kids have paid the price,” said Henrikson, in his 10th year of coaching at USM. “They’re invested in what we’re doing.”
Take Mike Poulin, the USM senior-plus point guard from Winthrop. After a productive freshman season in 2008-09, he sat out his sophomore year with a broken wrist. He played the next season but missed all but four games with another injury last year.
Or Sean Bergeron, the 6-foot-7 forward from Kennebunk. He’s endured three tears of his anterior cruciate ligament. Finally whole, he was a championship golfer last fall for USM. Now he typically comes off the bench to score in double figures and grab rebounds.
The team won only three of 14 conference games last year. No men’s team at USM has had a winning season since 2007-08. Now the Huskies are trying to prove the early victories weren’t flukes.
“I can’t say any one player has exceeded expectations,” said Henrikson. “Collectively, they’ve exceeded external expectations.”
USM plays at Western Connecticut State on Saturday. Western Connecticut has typically been a contender for the conference title. USM won the first meeting this season at home, 92-80.
• The Gary Fifield record at USM is formidable. A streak of 20-win seasons of more than 20 years. More than 600 victories. Repeated trips to the NCAA playoffs. And now this: the USM women are 18-0 for the best start since Fifield’s first season in 1987-88 when his team went 16-0 before losing. This team, says Fifield, has better balance. Any one of six or seven players can lead the team in scoring.
“I think they all know how this has the potential to be a pretty special season,” said Fifield. “They’re motivated.”
Western Connecticut is USM’s opponent on Saturday in Danbury, Conn.
Women’s basketball coach Adrienne Shibles got her 100th win in only 134 games. She reached the mark in Tuesday’s 80-43 victory over Maine Maritime Academy. . . Harry Matheson (Kingston, Ontario) has been named as the New England Small College Athletic Conference’s men’s ice hockey player of the week. After scoring in the third period of his team’s 4-1 triumph at Williams on Friday, Matheson scored twice in a 3-0 victory at Middlebury on Saturday. His first goal came 43 seconds into the game and proved to be the winner. It was Bowdoin’s first win at Middlebury since 1993. The junior forward currently leads the team and ranks third in the NESCAC with nine goals and 14 assists.
Bowdoin is ranked No. 3 in the latest USCHO.com Division III poll released on Monday, equaling the team’s highest-ever ranking in the poll from the 2001-02 campaign. The Polar Bears (15-1-1) received three first-place votes in the recent rankings and improved from the No. 4 spot last week. The Polar Bears currently sit atop the NESCAC standings at 10-1-1. . . Freshman Rachel Kennedy (Trumbull, Conn.) has been named as the NESCAC’s Women’s ice hockey co-player of the week. Kennedy scored five goals in a 2-1-0 week for first-place Bowdoin. The rookie currently leads the team, as well as all NESCAC rookies, with 10 goals and nine assists this season. Bowdoin is No. 6 in the latest USCHO.com Division III women’s poll on Monday, with a 13-2-1 record and leads the NESCAC conference standings. The Polar Bears are 7-1-0 in conference play.
ST. JOSEPH’S COLLEGE
Freshman center Morgan Cahill (Yarmouth) was chosen as the Maine women’s basketball coaches association rookie of the week for the fourth time this winter. Cahill averaged 14.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game while shooting 45.9 percent (17-37) from the floor in a 2-1 week for the Monks. Cahill capped the week with her seventh double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds in a 73-46 victory over Anna Maria College on Saturday.
UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND
The women’s basketball team has started its Commonwealth Coast Conference schedule with 10 straight wins. It plays defending CCC champion Salve Regina Saturday afternoon at home.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: