BOWDOIN COLLEGE’S Ollie Koo, left, here against Trinity in last weekend’s NESCAC quarterfinal men’s hockey game at Sidney J. Watson Arena, leads his squad against Middlebury at Amherst, Mass., in Saturday’s NESCAC semifinals. In the right photo, women’s basketball guard Allie Piscina and her Polar Bears are in Ithaca, N.Y. for tonight’s NCAA First Round contest against the University of Southern Maine. Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m.

BOWDOIN COLLEGE’S Ollie Koo, left, here against Trinity in last weekend’s NESCAC quarterfinal men’s hockey game at Sidney J. Watson Arena, leads his squad against Middlebury at Amherst, Mass., in Saturday’s NESCAC semifinals. In the right photo, women’s basketball guard Allie Piscina and her Polar Bears are in Ithaca, N.Y. for tonight’s NCAA First Round contest against the University of Southern Maine. Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m.

BRUNSWICK

COURTESY OF BRIAN BEARD / CIPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

COURTESY OF BRIAN BEARD / CIPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

The Bowdoin College women’s basketball team has once again earned a bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.

It has become second nature for the Polar Bears to be in the 64-team field, having qualified for the 12th consecutive year after receiving the word on Monday that Bowdoin was heading to Ithaca, N.Y., for the first, and hopefully second round this week with an at-large bid.

“We waited nervously in a conference room, and you never are really sure until you hear your name, then the room explodes with excitement,” said Bowdoin coach Adrienne Shibles. “ It is a privilege to be one of the 64 teams to keep playing, especially for the seniors.”

The Polar Bears will face a familiar foe eight hours from home as the University of Southern Maine Huskies make the trip, looking for a second victory this season over Bowdoin on Friday at 6 p.m.

The host Ithaca Bombers will take on the Elms College Blazers of Chicopee, Mass., with the winners meeting on Saturday (7 p.m.) in the second round at Ben Light Gymnasium.

The first Bowdoin- USM meeting, way back on Nov. 29, was all Huskies as Bowdoin struggled from the field (three of 24 from 3-point range) and with the inside-outside game of USM standouts Haley Jordan ( 18 points, nine rebounds), Courtney Cochran ( eight points, 18 rebounds) and Nicole Garland (16 points, five assists).

“We were struggling to find out who we were,” said Shibles of that 63-49 loss. “We’ve grown a lot since that time and developed a clear sense of who we are.

“USM is well-coached, with Gary Fifield doing a great job of getting his group to play tough on defense, especially inside. We will definitely need to shoot better and do a much better job in containing their penetration. They are a great rebounding team, plus Haley (Jordan) really hurt us last time as we focused inside on containing Cochran.”

The Huskies, who lead the all-time series with Bowdoin 30- 11 ( since 2000, the Polar Bears lead 9-5, including a 2-1 mark in NCAA tourney play), also received an at-large bid, falling to Rhode Island College (50-44) in the Little East Conference championship game on Sunday. USM is 21-6, rallying after a tough 4- 3 start.

Cochran and Jordan lead the offense for the Huskies, with Cochran averaging a double- double ( 17.1 points, 11.0 rebounds) and Jordan scoring at a 15.1 clip. Garland averages 12.7 points a game, and the Huskies held a 42-34 average rebounding edge.

The Bombers won the Empire 8 Championship with a 43-38 victory over Hartwick. This is Ithaca’s ninth NCAA appearance, with the Bombers sporting a 23- 4 mark.

The balanced Ithaca attack is led by the foursome of Jenn Escobido ( 11.8 point per game, 8.4 rebounds/ game), Kathryn Campbell (11.3 ppg), Devin Shea ( 10.3 ppg) and Jessica Farley ( 9.5 ppg). Defensively, the Bombers have allowed just 49.1 points a game, holding opponents to 33-percent shooting.

Ithaca is 0-2 all-time against Bowdoin.

Elms, also 0-2 against the Polar Bears, watched as fourth-seeded Daniel Webster upset conference-leading and unbeaten Regis College in the New England Collegiate Conference semifinals. The Blazers defeated Daniel Webster, 66- 64, in the title game as Erika Murphy scored the winning basket late in regulation before preserving the win with a timely steal.

Denisha Parks leads the way for the Blazers with 19.1 points/ game and 12.8 rebounds/game, with Murphy also averaging a doubledouble ( 14.0 points/ 10.1 rebounds). Elms is 20-8 overall after four sub-.500 seasons in five years.

“Anyone in the field is dangerous at this point because everyone is good,” said Shibles, whose team is 19-7 after falling to Tufts, 55-40, in the New England Small College Athletic Conference semifinals on Saturday. “After we lost, we pretty much knew we were going to go on the road. We are excited, knowing that every game could be our last. It gives us a great sense of urgency.”

Men’s hockey

Three of the top four seeds punched their ticket to the NESCAC semifinals, with fifth-seeded Williams upsetting No. 4 Tufts, 4-3 in overtime, on Saturday.

Amherst, 21- 3- 1 overall, earned the No. 1 seed and hosting rights for the semis and NESCAC final with a 6-0 victory over eighth- seeded Hamilton in the quarterfinals. The Jeffs will take on Williams, which comes in with a mark of 12-8-5.

The semifinal opener on Saturday pits two opponents who know each other well. Bowdoin, the No. 2 seed, will take on rival and third-seeded Middlebury at 1 p.m. in the rubber match of the season series. Middlebury claimed a 7-1 victory on Nov. 20 in Vermont, while Bowdoin took the rematch at Sidney J. Watson Arena with a 5-0 victory.

Middlebury has earned bragging rights in the NESCAC Tournament, having defeated the Polar Bears in all four meetings, all NESCAC championship games. The last, a 3- 2 win, took place in 2010 at Watson Arena, sending the Panthers automatically to the NCAA DIII tourney, with Bowdoin receiving an at-large bid.

“I think we played one of our best all- around games when we played them last,” said Meagher of the Jan. 21 contest. “This game will feature two programs with great respect for each other. It all comes down to timely goals and timely saves.”

Bowdoin leads the NESCAC in scoring offense with 4.62 goals a contest, while Middlebury ranks second in scoring defense ( 2.24) behind goaltenders John Yanchek (7-5, 2.24 goals- against average) and Dan Fullam (6-3-1, 2.23). Bowdoin is second in the NESCAC on the power play, while Middlebury’s penaltykilling unit leads the conference at a clip of 91.1 percent.

“Middlebury plays a controlled, puck possession game, figuring their best defense is not letting the other team have the puck,” said Meagher of the Panthers, who enter the contest with a 13-9-3 mark after downing No. 6 Wesleyan 2-1 in the quarters. “ They’re still a strong team, but not as prolific as in years past. Our programs have played each other so much over the years. We are looking forward to the challenge.”

Middlebury is led on offense by Charlie Strauss (five goals, 15 assists), Charles Nerbak (11-7) and Martin Drolet (6-11).

Amherst and Williams met twice during the regular season, with the Jeffs winning two tight contests (5-4 and 3- 1). Amherst lost just one NESCAC game on its way to a 17-1 mark, falling at Bowdoin 7-4 on Jan. 6.

The Jeffs lead the conference on the power play (27.1 percent) and on defense (1.64 goals a game). Goaltender Jonathan LaRose sits atop all netminder categories with a sterling 1.51 GAA and .943 save percentage. Offensively, Amherst is paced by Mike Maher (12-14), Mark Colp (9- 12) and Aaron Deutsch (3-16).

Williams has come on down the stretch after a slow start, having overcome injuries. Nick Anderson (11-13), Justin Trolani (8-15) and Craig Kitto (8-14) lead the Ephs’ offense, while goaltender Ryan Purdy (10-7-4, 2.54 GAA) has been steady.

“There are four very dangerous teams that can put the puck in the net playing this weekend,” said Meagher. “It’s what you do down the stretch that counts, and each of these teams comes into the weekend playing well.”

Women’s ice hockey

The Polar Bears are into the NESCAC semifinals for the third consecutive year after getting past Williams in the quarterfinals, 3-2 in overtime last weekend on a Stephanie Ludy goal at Watson Arena.

Bowdoin, the third seed, will take on No. 2 Amherst (20-4-1) for the third time in three weeks after going 0-1-1 against the Jeffs Feb. 17-18 at home. Amherst took the opener 5-2, and the teams skated to a 2-2 deadlock.

“There were times in those games that we were all over them, even taking a 2-0 lead in the second game,” said Bowdoin coach Marissa O’Neil. “There is no quit in either of these teams, so you have to play 60 minutes and not take a shift off because it’s your season if you do.

“ None of these Bowdoin players have made it past the semifinals, so we are going to play this knowing we have nothing to lose.”

The Polar Bears and Jeffs will meet at 4 p.m. in the second semifinal, with top-seeded Middlebury (19-3-3) facing No. 4 Trinity (15-10) at 1 p.m. in the opener.

Bowdoin junior forward Kayte Holtz, the NESCAC Player of the Week, leads the Polar Bears with a NESCACleading 32 points (15-17) as Bowdoin enters with the No. 3 offense (2.8 goals/game) in the conference. Kim Tess- Wanat (14-12) and Dominique Lozzi (4-13) also pace the Bowdoin forwards, while goaltenders Tara Connolly (7-5-1) and Kayla Lessard (5-3-2) have been solid in net, combining on a 2.36 GAA, fourth in the NESCAC.

Meanwhile, Amherst, which shut out Connecticut College, 3-0, in the quarters, allows a paltry 1.20 goals a game and boasts a penaltykilling until that kills off 90.3 percent of opponents’ power plays.

“They are very stingy on defense and limit scoring chances,” said O’Neil. “We feel our strength is our offense, and with the big ice surface at Middlebury we will have to use our speed to create scoring chances.”

Ellen Swiantkowski (11-15), Geneva Lloyd (9-14) and Jodie Fisher (8-15) lead the Amherst offense. In goal, Sinead Murphy ( 12- 2- 1, 1.06 GAA) and Kerri Sweet (8-2, 1.30 GAA) have been nearly impenetrable.

Middlebury downed No. 8 Colby in the quarters, 5-1, and comes in with the top scoring offense (3.80/game) and No. 1 power-play unit (25.7 percent).

The Panthers are led by Lauren Greer (11-16), Hannah Bielawski ( 7- 18) and Sara Ugaide ( 13- 11). Goaltender Annabelle Jones has been steady, posting a 13-3-3 mark, 1.47 GAA and .928 save percentage.

Trinity is a defense- first kind of team, allowing just two goals a game ( third, NESCAC) behind goaltender Alexa Pujol (12-7, 1.73 GAA, .935 save percentage).

Offense comes from Payson Sword ( 5- 12) and Lauren Glynn (9-4).

The Bantams gave Middlebury a tussle twice during the regular season, falling 2-1 and 3-1 Dec. 2-3.

Saturday’s victors will meet Sunday to battle for the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.


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