Emily Durgin’s first big-time college payoff came last weekend.

The University of Connecticut sophomore from Standish (Cheverus) was named the outstanding track performer at the American Athletic Conference indoor track and field meet. She won the 5,000 and 3,000 meters, and anchored UConn’s winning distance medley relay.

UConn finished second in the meet, just 4.5 points behind Southern Methodist. The AAC is a far-flung conference that was formed after the breakup of the Big East.

“I was happy with that,” Durgin, 19, said. “The distance crew was all happy with what we did. SMU, they just have the numbers.”

Now she’s focused on a bigger goal for the outdoor season – making the NCAA championships in the 5K or 10K.

She’ll run her first-ever on-track 10,000-meter race later this month at the Raleigh Relays. The goal is to run a fast enough time – right around 34 minutes flat – to qualify for the NCAA East Regional.

The low 48 times from the East qualify for regional competition. The top 12 from the region advance to the NCAA championships.

After a standout high school career that included a trip to the Foot Locker cross country nationals as a sophomore, Durgin slogged through her freshman year at UConn. She said the multiple adjustments to college life made her first year in Storrs, Conn., a transition.

“I was used to being the best and then you get to college and you’re not even close to one of the best on my own team,” Durgin said. “I went home this summer and decided I was going to work hard and refocus.”

During the summer, UConn hired 2008 Olympian and former two-time NCAA champion Amy Yoder Begley to replace Andrea Grove-McDonough, who had taken the women’s cross country coaching job at Iowa State.

Begley quickly noticed Durgin’s running pedigree – and that her freshman times were inconsistent.

“We said, ‘You’re a Foot Locker kid, let’s run like a Foot Locker kid,’ ” Begley said.

Durgin had a strong cross country season, boosting her confidence with a third-place finish at the AAC championships and then earning all-Northeast Region honors with a 16th-place finish.

That success led nicely into the indoor season where Durgin set PRs in the mile (under 5 minutes for the first time), the 3,000 and the 5,000 meters.

“She put in a huge summer of training,” Begley said. “That was where it started. ”

At last weekend’s two-day conference meet, Durgin took control of the 5,000 meters early and won by more than 6 seconds in 16:47.81.

Just 25 minutes later she anchored the distance medley relay.

Durgin came back to win the 3,000 on Saturday in 9:36.65.

Neither her 5K or 3K times were close to the high standards needed to make the indoor nationals where only the 16 best make the cut. The indoor season does not include a regional qualifying meet.

“My goal ever since cross country has been to make it to NCAAs outdoor and we’ve kind of planned out the whole year with that goal in mind,” Durgin said.

Begley said Durgin will focus on both the 5,000 and 10,000 this outdoor season. But both coach (who ran the 10,000 at the Olympics) and athlete believe the grueling 25-lap race could be Durgin’s best event.

“She’s very stubborn and that’s a good thing for the 10K,” Begley said. “She’s stubborn enough to hang on when she’s hurting. And she’s very competitive and will fight to the end. Plus she’s pretty hearty, she hasn’t been injured a lot, and that’s a good thing, too, for the 10K.”

MEN’S BASKETBALL

The four Mainers on the Bentley University team saw their season end when Saint Anselm defeated the Falcons 79-78 in Sunday’s Northeast-10 quarterfinal.

Juniors Andrew Shaw of Saco (Thornton Academy) and Keegan Hyland of South Portland, and sophomores Tyler McFarland of Rockport (Camden Hills) and Alex Furness of Wells started for Bentley (18-11). McFarland led the team with 20 points and eight rebounds. Hyland added 14 with Furness (8) and Shaw (6) also playing big minutes.

In Bentley’s opening-round playoff win against Saint Rose, Hyland and Shaw both had career-high nights with 25 and 24 points, respectively. McFarland was named to the All-NE-10 second team after leading the team in scoring at 18.1 ppg, and ranking first in the league in 3-point shooting (.494) and second in free throws (.875).

Nichols senior Sam Horning of Falmouth and junior teammate Matt Langadas of Sebago (Lake Region) helped propel the Bison to the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship game, losing to Gordon.

Horning, a 6-foot-4 guard, has started 22 times for Nichols (23-6) this season, averaging 9.9 points and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 41.4 percent on 3-pointers. Langadas, also a 6-4 guard, averages nearly 20 minutes and contributes 7.7 ppg.

Nichols did get invited to the ECAC tourney and, after beating Plymouth State in the quarterfinal, plays Lasell on Saturday.

Southern Maine Community College junior point guard Jose Nouchanthavong of Westbrook was named a first-team USCAA Division II All-American after leading the Seawolves in scoring (15.7 ppg) and assists (5.7 per game).

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Connecticut College senior Caitlin Cimino of Falmouth (McAuley) scored 18 points in her final game, a tough 79-76 loss at Trinity in the NESCAC quarterfinal. Cimino averaged 6.4 ppg, starting all 25 games as Connecticut College went 14-11. She also recorded a team-high 43 blocks.

SWIMMING AND DIVING

Bentley sophomore diver Nicola Mancini of Falmouth is returning to the Division II championships, which begin with a pre-qualification meet Tuesday in Geneva, Ohio.

Mancini will try to be among the qualifiers in both the 1- and 3-meter diving events. Mancini won the Northeast-10 championship in both events for a second straight season. As a freshman, Mancini placed eighth at the NCAA championships to earn All-America status in the 1-meter event and was 13th in the 3-meter.

Elms senior Keegan Goan of Westbrook finished his standout four-year career recently. Goan swam all events but specialized in the 50-meter butterfly, compiling a 32-1 record during regular-season dual meets. A four-year Academic All-America, he holds 13 school records and 10 GNAC titles.

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

scraig@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveCCraig