Anthony Ewing was blunt. Nobody, he told his University of New England players during practice this week, believes you’ll win your next game.
That 19-game win streak to end the regular season? It doesn’t matter. That 69-63 victory over Salve Regina to win the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament last Saturday? It changes nothing.
“People already are talking about how exciting the Bridgewater State-Amherst matchup is going to be Saturday,” said Ewing. “They’re forgetting we play Friday.”
What, you thought NCAA Division III women’s basketball teams can’t play the we-don’t-get-respect card? Ewing, the sixth-year coach and Portland native has had that up his sleeve all season.
Twelve of his 16 players are freshmen or sophomores. The Nor’easters weren’t expected to win the conference championship let alone qualify for the 64-team NCAA tournament that starts Friday around the country. UNE (22-4) plays Bridgewater State (23-2), champion of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference, in the first game of a doubleheader at Amherst College.
Amherst (25-2) is the New England Small College Athletic Conference champion. It plays Farmingdale State (12-12), champion of the New York-based Skyline Conference, in the second game.
UNE has qualified for the NCAA tournament three times in the past four years but hasn’t won a tournament game. “That’s our motivation, believe me,” said Ewing. “Until we get that first W, it’s hard to get recognized, even in our own state. We understand that.”
By comparison the University of Southern Maine women have been to the NCAA tournament 26 times in 28 years and have won 44 games. Beth Suggs, UNE’s 6-foot senior forward, isn’t interested in comparisons.
“This could possibly be my last game,” said Suggs (Bath/Morse High). “I’m not ready for that.”
She is the conference player of the year. Sixteen times in 26 games she scored at least 10 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds. She’s the focus of any opponent’s scouting report.
“I personally take it as a challenge. (Increased attention on me) allows our whole team to work together.”
If Bridgewater State overplays Suggs, that will give freshmen Meghan Gribbin (Windham) or Kelly Coleman (Portland, Conn.) or Sadie DiPierro (South Portland, McAuley) or someone else an opportunity to score.
DiPierro and Gribbin are two of the eight freshmen on the team. Neither feels like a rookie anymore. After the first semester, Ewing told his youngest players they had already aged.
“Coach always stresses we have to play as sophomores,” said DiPierro. “He’s right.”
DiPierro, a 5-foot-8 guard, played four seasons at McAuley, winning two state championships and reaching the Western Maine tournament every year. There is no comparison in the speed, strength and intelligence of college players versus high school players, but the big-game environment DiPierro experienced at McAuley has helped this year.
“We don’t expect to outsmart our opponents,” said Ewing. “It’s all about who’s going to make the smart plays. Mistakes are not an option.”
Bridgewater State has been successful, said Ewing, with a four-guard lineup and a 5-foot-9 post player. UNE will have a size advantage.
“We’re back to square one,” said Suggs. “We have clean and clear minds. Instead of worrying about how young we are, we’re going to focus on what we do best.
“As a freshman playing in my first tournament, I was intimidated. I was nervous before I settled down. This time I think we have to expect our freshmen to not play like freshmen any- more. We can get it done.”
Tickets to the NESCAC hockey semifinals Saturday at Watson Arena in Brunswick are hot. Bowdoin sold out its allotment Wednesday. A limited number of unsold tickets are expected from the distributions to Williams, Trinity and Middlebury, and will go on sale at noon Saturday, an hour before the Williams-Trinity semifinal. Middlebury and Bowdoin play in the second game at 4 p.m. Check www.athletics.bowdoin.edu on Friday for the exact number of tickets available.
ST. JOSEPH’S COLLEGE
Freshman center Morgan Cahill (Yarmouth) was named the Great Northeast Athletic Conference basketball rookie of the year. Cahill also was named to the all-conference second team. She averaged 13.3 points per game, eight rebounds and had 60 blocked shots. She was the first freshman in the 36-year history of the program to lead the team in scoring and rebounding. Lindsay Moore (Barrington, N.H.) was named conference defensive player of the year. … Junior guard Matthew Medeiros (Westport, Mass.) was named to the all-conference first team. He led the conference in 3-point shots (70) and was the team’s leading scorer with 15.3 ppg. Nicholas Jobin (Westbrook) was named to the all-conference third team.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE
Conor Sullivan (Scarborough) was named to the Little East Conference first team. His 15.0 ppg was second in the conference. The junior guard was the first USM player to make all-conference first team since the 2007-08 season.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: