GORHAM — Between the University of Southern Maine and University of New England women’s basketball teams, just two seniors stepped onto the court Tuesday night at Warren Hill Gymnasium.

The young teams faced off in a season opener that UNE won, 62-46. Both the Nor’easters and Huskies returned just five players, leaving both teams – as UNE’s Alicia Brown described – “searching for an identity.”

“Everyone’s working hard and really wants to contribute,” said Brown, a 6-foot-4 center. “I definitely think there’s a lot of potential.”

Brown led UNE with 14 points. Junior Emily Nicholson sparked the Huskies with 17, including three 3-pointers.

“We’re young and we have a lot to learn,” said Nicholson, a 5-9 guard. “But considering where the freshmen are in their first college game is amazing. We’re going to be just fine even though we’re young and small.”

Freshmen Jackie Luckhardt has eight points and freshman Chantel Eells contributed seven for the Huskies.

USM boasts seven freshmen with no seniors and no players taller than 5-11. But what it lacks in height and experience, Nicholson said, is made up for in quickness and willpower.

“The team chemistry is awesome. There’s no separation between the older girls and the freshmen,” Nicholson said. “Look out next year.”

Nicholson is one of just three juniors on the team, including Miranda Nicely and Kayla Stacy.

“I think we did a better job in the second half,” said Stacy, who scored 10 points for USM. The Huskies scored 35 points in the second half compared to 11 in the first. “Our role (as juniors) is just to keep everyone on track and communicating.”

USM’s players aren’t the only ones new to the program. Samantha Allen, 28, is kicking off her second season coaching the team. In her first year the Huskies earned a home playoff berth in the Little East Conference tournament before finishing 14-12.

Allen replaced longtime coach Gary Fifield, who led USM to the NCAA Division III Final Four five times (1988, 1998, 2000, 2005 and 2006).

“It was a good year. I think we learned a lot about playing hard and not take winning traditions for granted,” Allen said. “But we have some work to do.”

Allen said USM will need to improve on rebounding – the Nor’easters outrebounded the Huskies, 39-30. But she said it’s too early to tell how far the team will go.

“It could go either direction,” Allen said. “How they respond as a group to adversity says a lot about who they are. We do have the potential to surprise people. They’re very young with a high ceiling. ”

With nine new faces, UNE Coach Anthony Ewing had a similar take on the Nor’easters.

“I think (the team’s youth) showed tonight – just kind of a feeling-out process,” Ewing said. “But I think we will be really good. How soon? I’m not sure.”

The Nor’easters seemed to click in the fourth quarter, when they put up 25 points. Ewing said he’ll count on his two seniors – Lindsay Howland and Brown – to help lead the team.

“Alicia (Brown) has been huge for us since she was a freshman,” Ewing said. “What’s different is she had that class ahead of her to lean on a little bit. Now we’re kind of looking to her at key points. I think she’s ready for it.”

The Nor’easters have been on the rise for the past decade, winning their fourth straight Commonwealth Coast Conference title in February while tying the school’s record winning streak of 20 games. The Nor’easters ended last season 25-4 after falling to Moravian 70-60 in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament. They have advanced to the second round in three of the last four seasons.

Ewing, who has coached the team for 10 years, is confident his team will continue its upward trend.

“I think the sky is the limit,” Ewing said. “They have set lofty goals for themselves – that’s the important thing. If they’re willing to do the work to reach those goals, I think we could go pretty far this year.”

On Friday, UNE will host the University of Maine at Farmington. The Nor’easters will face their first league rival Nov. 30 at Wentworth and take on their toughest challenge Dec. 10 when they host Tufts, last season’s national runner-up.

USM will play next at Sage on Saturday, then will host Eastern Connecticut in their first Little East Conference game Dec. 3.

“This group is exceptionally good at accepting feedback and making adjustments,” Allen said of USM. “It should be an exciting year.”


USM 76, UNE 67: The University of Southern Maine entered halftime up 39-33 and held on in an opener at Gorham.

USM outrebounded UNE 49-40, with James Starks III pulling down a game-high 16 for the Huskies.

Zach Leal led USM with 25 points while Starks contributed 21.

Jean-Luc Parker led UNE with 16 points. Gavin Dibble added 12 and Drew Coveney 10.