Paige Buchanan of Portland remembers the first time her mother took her to play squash.

“Well, I thought it was pretty weird walking through this small little door to get to the court,” said Buchanan, 18, a freshman at St. Lawrence University.

That door opened not only a new game but also the opportunity to be a college athlete as a member of St. Lawrence’s varsity women’s squash team. A Waynflete School grad, Buchanan has a 1-1 record playing No. 8 and No. 9 on the nine-person scoring team and is 2-1 in exhibitions.

Her former Waynflete classmate, Isabel Agnew, is also playing varsity squash, checking in at No. 3 for Haverford (Pa.) College. Agnew is 1-3.

Both players got their start in similar ways: A parent who was familiar with the sport introduced them, then they began to play against adults at the Greater Portland YMCA where Isabel’s father, Alex Agnew, is a volunteer squash coach.

“Of the two, Paige is a better player,” Alex said. “St. Lawrence is just a much stronger team.”

St. Lawrence’s women’s team is ranked in the top 25, matching up with the same opponents as its No. 4 ranked men’s team.

“So we travel with the guys and play Harvard, Yale and all the really good schools,” Buchanan said.

With daily practices and the exposure to top-level competition, Buchanan says she’s seen a rapid growth in her game.

“A lot of people have told me how much I’ve improved and my game is looking a lot better, which is definitely good to hear,” Buchanan said.

For Isabel Agnew, who began to play as a high school sophomore, being thrust into the No. 3 slot has been a challenge.

“I was not expecting to play this high or against people this good. The competition has been very fierce. You can tell as soon as you get on the court and are warming up, these girls have clearly been playing since they were very young,” Agnew said.

Both young women believe squash helped them in the college acceptance process.

Agnew competed on Waynflete’s varsity soccer, Nordic skiing and lacrosse teams and knew she wanted to play squash in college.

“Any little thing that can boost your application will help and squash will definitely boost the application,” Agnew said. “It’s a small sport now but a lot of colleges are trying to increase it.”

Buchanan opted to wait to get on campus before declaring her intention to play but definitely worked her interest in squash into her application.

“There are not many people from the state of Maine who can put they play squash on applications,” Buchanan said.

Over the holiday break the two got together several times at the Y to practice together.

“It was fun to see how much we’ve improved,” Agnew said.

MEN’S BASKETBALL

Bentley University’s four-player Maine connection all posted double-figure scoring in Wednesday’s 82-73 Northeast-10 win against Le Moyne. Andrew Shaw of Saco (Thornton Academy) scored 14 points, Tyler MacFarland of Rockport (Camden) and Alex Furness of Wells each had 11, and South Portland’s Keegan Hyland tossed in 10. Hyland, a junior guard, is seeing his first collegiate action after injury-filled stops at Gonzaga and Fairfield.

Hyland did not play for Bentley last season, and this year missed eight games due to illness. When he came back, South Portland’s all-time leading scorer notched 26 points in 34 minutes off the bench in his first two games. Bentley is 11-3, 5-3 in NE-10.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Thomas College freshman Lexi Merrifield of Gorham was recently Rookie of the Week for the North Atlantic Conference and Maine’s Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. She averaged 13.7 points over a three-game stretch in early December, including game highs of 26 points and 15 rebounds in a win against Lyndon State. The 5-foot-11 Merrifield leads Thomas (2-7) in scoring at 11.0 ppg with 6.4 rebounds a game.

Wheaton College freshman Sarah Caron (Boothbay Region) contributed four points, three assists, a rebound and a block in a pre-holiday 88-48 win against Yeshiva. Wheaton is 12-0.

SWIMMING AND DIVING

In early December, Elms College senior Keegan Goan of Westbrook was named to the GNAC All Conference team following a standout two-day effort at the GNAC Invitational. Goan won two – the 50 butterfly and 100 IM – and placed third in the 100 butterfly and 50 back. She also was part of Elms’ 400-medley relay that set a GNAC record of 3 minutes, 47.15 seconds, and swam the fly on the 200-medley relay that also placed first.

Bentley sophomore Nicola Mancini of Falmouth earned her fifth Northeast-10 Women’s Diver of the Week honors (12th of her career) on Wednesday after sweeping the diving events at Plymouth State to remain undefeated this season. Her effort included a pool-record three-meter score of 264.8.

Wheaton College senior Adrianne Madden of Falmouth was part of two strong relay efforts in a meet at Pomona-Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. Madden was part of the third-place 200-medley relay and was joined by freshman Lindsay Thomsen of Gorham on the second-place 200-free relay. Madden added a third in the 50-yard free and fourth in the 50-yard backstroke as Pomona-Pitzer won the meet, 226-62.

Wheaton College’s men’s team also lost to Pomona-Pitzer 184-110, with sophomore Daniel Spencer of North Yarmouth (Greely) claiming fourth in the 50-free and senior Kyle Wilson of Cumberland (Greely) fourth in the 50-back.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig