While the snow and bone-chilling cold is hopefully still weeks away, winter is already in the air at Southern Maine Community College, where the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have made their share of noise and hope to steal headlines between now and March.

Team to watch

The men are coming off an 89-61 drubbing of Eastern Maine CC last weekend. The Seawolves improved to 4-1 overall (2-0 in Yankee Small College Conference play). They were at the University of Maine-Augusta Wednesday and have a big home test against Dean College Saturday at 3 p.m.

Coach Matt Richards, now in his eighth year (he entered the season 131-75 with SMCC), has high hopes for this team and feels it could be one of the best he’s had.

“The kids are really playing hard,” Richards said. “I’m happy with how they’re progressing.”

The Seawolves feature a good blend of returning talent and immediate impact newcomers.

“I thought we had a good recruiting class and our returners made a nice run last year,” said Richards. “Six or seven of the returners were here all summer so I’m not surprised at our good start because of that effort. The new guys have come in and complemented them.”

SMCC features the returning skills of junior guard Josh Mackie (of South Portland), sophomore guard Paul Holland (from England), sophomore guard Daniel Foster (from Cheverus) and junior Joe Jardine.

“We’re getting strong play from our returning guards,” Richards said. “They’ve improved and have become good perimeter shooters. They’re tremendous workers setting an example of how to prepare for workouts and practices.

Seniors Coleman Findlay (a center) and Matt Findlay (forward) also return, but are currently battling injury. They’ll make an seismic impact when they get back on the court.

“They’ll be an added bonus,” said Richards. “We’ll have great experience.”

The list of new players to watch is led by freshman Jose Nouchanthavong, who was a big part of Westbrook’s regional finalist last winter. Freshman point guard Jim Thyng, sophomore guard/forward Josh Bett (another Brit, who redshirted a year ago), freshman center Ryan Chaney and sophomore guard/forward Randall Laing (a transfer from Washington, D.C.) are also turning heads.

“Jose is a diamond in the rough,” Richards said. “He’s very athletic and is playing very well. He’s a difference maker. Jimmy has made my job very difficult because he plays so hard. I have to put him on the floor. He’s a good point guard and a good on-the-ball defender. The inside guys are still developing. Randall is a slasher who gets to the rim. He brings another dimension.

“We’re playing well right now, but I think we’ll get even better.”

Richards knows that SMCC will have to struggle to hold off several conference foes, most notably Vermont Tech, traditional rival Central Maine CC and New Hampshire Technical Institute.

If the Seawolves progress as hoped, this group could be in the mix for a conference championship and perhaps even a trip to nationals.

“Come December, we’ll have played the top teams in the conference, two on the road,” Richards said. “We’ll have a good sense of how we’ll compete. I think we have a conference championship-caliber team. We host the conference tourney. That’s an advantage for us. We have to make sure to be in a position for proper seeding. That starts now. Our depth allows us to talk about nationals and making a dent there. We have to avoid injuries for that to happen.”

Richards’ best team at SMCC was arguably a squad that went 23-8 four years ago and made the trip to nationals. He feels this group might be in that stratosphere.

“This group, from a raw talent standpoint, has the potential for a greater upswing than that team which had outstanding leadership, basketball IQ and maturity,” Richards said. “We have the potential to be really good.”

Work in progress

The Seawolves women’s squad (17-10 in 2009-10) also beat Eastern Maine CC last weekend, 75-39, to improve to 3-2 (2-0 in YSCC action). SMCC has been up-and-down to date, but has a huge upside.

“The women’s team has had a rocky start and are still trying to find their identity,” said fourth-year coach Becky Roak. “We are very young, but have some talented players. Once we learn to play team basketball, we will be alright. We are going to have an up-tempo style and push the ball every opportunity we get. I look forward to this team having success come second semester. We will have some growing pains early.”

The Seawolves only have nine players on their roster for the first semester, but there is quality.

Only two players return from a squad which reached the national tournament last winter, Portland’s Kimmie Preston and Alisa Sweet. The duo will look to provide leadership and guidance in the weeks to come.

Sweet was the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder last season. She had 19 points versus EMCC.

Preston has a knack for draining 3-point bombs.

The incoming group brings myriad skills.

Scarborough’s Hanna Lyons and South Portland’s Esther Palmieri will see time at point guard. Palmieri can be deadly from the outside. Christina Ricci, who played for some very talented teams at Lake Region, and Mikayla Burbank can drain shots as well. Chelsea Sloat and Jessica Truman provide more depth at the guard spot.

Ariel LeDuc, who played at Mt. Ararat in Topsham, brings promise to the post position and will join Sweet in being a force inside.

“We have a ton of potential,” said Roak. “I’m excited to see what these young players can do. I have a feeling they will continue to surprise me each day. Once we’re all on the same page, look out.”

SMCC was at the University of Maine-Augusta Wednesday and hosts Dean College Saturday at 1 p.m.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

Freshman Jose Nouchanthavong, a former Westbrook High star, has brought plenty of excitement to the SMCC men’s team this year.

Portland’s Alisa Sweet is off to a hot start for the SMCC women this season.