In the highly competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference, where every regular-season football game is the be-all and end-all because the conference abstains from postseason play, “every Saturday is like a Super Bowl,” said Gorham’s Jonathan Day, a junior tight end at Wesleyan University
“There are so many good teams and almost every year some team goes 7-1, and a lot of years a team can go 8-0, so you just can’t afford to lose any game,” said Day, 21, a former standout running back at Gorham High and now a starting tight end for Wesleyan.
This Saturday could be extra super for the Cardinals of Middletown, Conn. They are on the cusp of Wesleyan’s first 8-0 season since 1969.
To achieve it, they will have to win at Trinity (5-2), which has a 50-game home winning streak and has never lost on its current field.
“If we win, we end their streak and become the outright NESCAC champions,” Day said. “We have plenty to play for. There’s a lot riding on this, and I think it’s going to be a really special day with all the rivalry and all the historical precedent.”
Wesleyan has already broken a 43-year drought by winning the Little Three championship outright. The Little Three is a conference within a conference, pitting Wesleyan against Amherst and Williams
“I came in as a freshman and I’ve played in every game, and we went two years without getting a win against Amherst or Williams. This year we got them both. That first one, against Amherst, is one of the games I’ll never forget,” Day said.
Amherst was officially opening its new stadium that day, a celebration Wesleyan spoiled.
Combined with last Saturday’s 16-14 win against Williams and the 7-0 start, the 2013 team has energized the campus and the alumni. The day before the Williams game, Coach Mike Whalen brought in a former Wesleyan player, Dr. George Hicks, chief of cardiac surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
“He gave a really nice speech, just about how long it’s been since we’ve been on top. He said he hadn’t been back on campus in 30 years and was just jacked up about this game and this season,” Day said.
Day went to Wesleyan after a four-year varsity career at Gorham High playing for Dave Kilborn and one postgraduate year at Bridgton Academy. It was at Bridgton where the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Day switched from running back to tight end.
That was also where he first heard about Wesleyan. Day said he originally enrolled at Bridgton on the advice of the Columbia University coaching staff. Improve your SAT scores and GPA, get a little bigger and faster, and there will be an Ivy League acceptance in your future, Day was told.
The University of Maine also had him make an official visit.
But Columbia declined enrollment (“I never got my SAT scores up enough,” Day says), Maine could offer only a partial scholarship, and Wesleyan had a champion in then-Bridgton Coach Rick Marcella.
“He told me that Wesleyan had called him and they were asking about me. He said if I had the opportunity to get in that it was an opportunity that I had to take,” Day said.
Wesleyan’s large endowment led to significant financial aid, something Day said he needed.
“I just fell in love with the coaches and campus and the team and pretty much decided the day of visit that I was going to come here, and it’s been a perfect fit since then,” Day said.
Wesleyan uses a run-heavy offense. Blocking is Day’s top priority, but he still gets to touch the ball, though not as much as he did his junior and senior years at Gorham, when he routinely carried 30 times a game.
This year, Day has 10 catches for 139 yards with a pair of touchdowns. His best year statistically was his 16-catch, 214-yard effort as a freshman. Last year he was switched to an H-Back/fullback role.
What Day really cares about is the progress the team has made and that he and his fellow juniors have set the tone as Whalen’s first recruiting class.
“We take great pride in being the group to pave the way and show the younger guys, this is how it’s done. It’s just great to see it finally pay off, and it’s a great lesson,” Day said.
Trinity College junior Karyn Barrett of Cape Elizabeth had a goal and assist Saturday in a 2-1 NESCAC quarterfinal win against Amherst and earned NESCAC Player of the Week honors. Trinity has posted a best-ever 12-3 record and faces Williams on Saturday in a league semifinal. The championship game is Sunday. The tourney champ automatically qualifies for the NCAA Division III tournament.
University of Connecticut sophomore Emily Durgin of Portland (Cheverus) finished third in the first-ever American Athletic Conference championship meet, held in Madison, Conn. The AAF includes an odd collection of 10 Division I programs, including women’s champ Southern Methodist and men’s champ Louisville. Durgin covered the 6,000-meter course in 20 minutes, 25.88 seconds to lead the Huskies to a third-place finish. Next up is the Northeast Regional on Nov. 15 in New York.
• In Colorado, University of Oregon sophomore Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunkport was the second finisher for her fourth-place Ducks at the highly competitive Pac-12 Conference meet. Oregon is the defending NCAA Divison I champion but finished behind this year’s top-ranked team, Arizona, as well as top-20 teams Colorado and Washington. Leonardi, who was usually the seventh runner for Oregon as a freshman, finished 21st overall with a time of 22:25.
• Husson sophomore Kateri Jeffery of Windham (South Portland) was named second-team all-North Atlantic Conference after finishing in the top 12 in the conference meet as Husson narrowly missed a third straight conference title.
• Brandeis senior Amelia Lundkvist of South Portland (Cheverus) was third in the University Athletic Association meet, earning first-team status and leading her team to third in a meet with six nationally ranked teams – Brandeis’ best showing in over a decade.
• Sophomore Tom Dean of Portland (Deering) was Bentley’s top runner at the Northeast-10 meet, placing 40th. Bentley was ninth among 15 teams.
Staff Writer Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at: