By Steve Solloway
Pay no attention, said Anthony Ewing to his team of young basketball players before the start of their season. Don't read the tweets, texts or twaddle on college Internet forums. Don't listen to those who say the University of New England women are too young to win games or too new to the college game.
So they didn't.
The Nor'easters are 12-0 in the Commonwealth Coast Conference and in first place. They're riding a 10-game win streak into Thursday night's game at home against Gordon College (2-12 overall, 0-12 conference).
Ewing, in his sixth season at UNE, has changed his tone and his tune from October to January. Now he tells his team to pay attention and understand that every conference opponent knows UNE is unbeaten and talented, and wants to take them down.
"Right now the goal is to take care of business and get home court for the (conference tournament)," said Ewing. "After Gordon, four of our last five games are on the road."
Ewing is a Portland guy, a Deering High graduate. He arrived on the UNE campus for the 2007-08 season and that first team went 13-13 overall and 7-6 in the conference, losing in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
The Nor'easters haven't lost more than eight games in any season in the next four years. The conference record during that same span is 51-6, not counting this season.
Ewing finds talent, limiting his recruiting to "good" basketball players. Personalities are important to him. UNE has enjoyed a bit of a building boom and new buildings are not lost on recruits. More importantly, neither is the character of the girls already on the team.
Throw in the increasing string of winning seasons and two trips to the NCAA tournament in the past three years, and the idea of committing to UNE is not a tough sell. Even with the University of Southern Maine and St. Joseph's College practically next door and boasting of their own basketball success.
Still, Ewing started the season with eight freshmen and four sophomores on a roster that now numbers 15. To run the team on the court, Ewing turned to Meg Gribbin (Windham) and Lauren Hayden (Chantilly, Va.), both freshmen. Sadie DiPierro (McAuley) and Alanna Vose (Medomak Valley) are two other freshman guards.
"Last year, with three key seniors who knew it was their last go-round, our practices were more business-like. It was a let's-make-sure-we-get-this-done attitude," said Ewing. "This year I'd say there was a little more unbridled fun and excitement in practice. I'm there to tell them we need to get better."
So is Beth Suggs (Bath), one of the two senior-co-captains. At 6 feet, Suggs has become a physical force under both baskets. With 14 points and 15 rebounds in Tuesday's win over Curry College, Suggs has 13 double-doubles, putting her in the top 10 in the country in that category.
Suggs can remember her freshman season like it was yesterday, she said. She was intimidated until the upperclassmen on that team helped bring out her confidence. That's her other role this season: to encourage and lead.
"I fell in love with this team," said Gribbin, who scored 17 points, a career high, on Tuesday. "We've all had to step up. We still have a lot of work to do."
Senior co-captain Kaitlin Donahoe of Amherst, N.Y., averaged 23.0 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in two games last week, winning the New England Small College Athletic Conference and Maine Women's Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Week. ... The men's hockey team resumes its schedule Friday night at home against Amherst. The men have won four straight since losing for the first time this season, 6-5 in overtime to Wesleyan on Jan. 11. The men are 16-1-1 overall and 10-1-1 in the conference. ... The women's track team hosts the Maine intercollegiate indoor track and field championships Friday night at Farley Fieldhouse, beginning at 6 p.m. The women have won the last four state titles.
ST. JOSEPH'S COLLEGE
Freshman Morgan Cahill (Yarmouth) averaged 18.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks, shooting 59 percent from the floor during a recent three-game span. Through 19 games, Cahill is a team leader in scoring (13.0 ppg), field goals made (97), rebounding (8.3 rpg) and blocked shots (39). Female athletes from St. Joseph's teams will provide skill instruction in their sports at a national girls and women in sports day at the Harold Alfond Center on Feb. 9. Registration for girls grades K-5 begins at 1 p.m. The session will run from 1:30 to 4 p.m. and is free.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE
The men's basketball team has a three-game winning streak on the line when it plays Little East Conference rival Keene State at home at 3 p.m. Saturday. The Huskies (13-7, 7-2) are tied for second place with Eastern Connecticut, one game behind Rhode Island College (16-3, 8-1). Keene State is fourth (11-8, 6-3). The women's basketball team (19-1, 8-1) bounced back from its first loss of the season Saturday to Western Connecticut with a nonleague victory against Colby and plays Keene State at home at 1 p.m. Saturday. ... Freshman sprinter Nicole Kirk (Scarborough) and hurdler/jumper Peyton Dostie (Standish) will lead the women's track team at the State of Maine championships at Bowdoin College on Friday. Kirk set a school record in the 200 meters with a time of 25.77 seconds at the Terrier Classic at Boston University. Jennifer Durham (Doylestown, Pa.) broke a 16-year-old school record in the shot put with a throw of 38 feet, 11 inches at the USM Invitational.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: