The women’s volleyball team at the University of Southern Maine is off to the best start in the program’s on-again, off-again 35-year history. The Huskies won their first eight matches before dropping a pair to Framingham State and Newbury College last weekend.

Now, first-year coach Diane Newell wants her young players to believe they can build on that success and contend with the top teams in the Little East Conference.

That’s where the Huskies never have had success. Over the last four years USM has won just two conference matches. Newell believes this team has a chance to reverse that trend if the players believe they can.

“That’s the toughest thing,” said Newell, who was the coach at Norton (Massachusetts) High the last five years. “I’ve coached at other programs and had the same problem. It’s an unfortunate problem in women’s sports. I think women tend to be easily intimidated. They have to get past that intimidation and believe that on any given night, they can beat those teams.”

She points out that USM beat St. Joseph’s College 3-0 earlier this year, something the Huskies hadn’t done in several years. “We have some tough conference matches coming up; it doesn’t mean we can’t beat them,” she said. “We did that with St. Joe’s. We need to build on things that we have been successful with.”

Newell believes the Huskies can compete because they pass well, defend well and communicate well. It also helps to have talent, and the Huskies have some pretty good players, led by freshman outside hitter Jessica Williamson from Goffstown, New Hampshire. Williamson has three times been named the LEC Rookie of the Week and three times the ECAC Division III Rookie of the Week. She has 149 kills and 90 digs.

“She’s very powerful but she’s a very smart hitter as well,” said Newell. “She can read the court so well.”

Megan Nilson, a sophomore setter for the Huskies, said, “(Williamson) has brought a sense of confidence to us. We have so much faith in her, in all our hitters. They all know where to play the ball on the court.”

Nilson, from Granby, Connecticut, has 277 assists. Demi Ruder, a junior from Clifton, Colorado, is second on the team in digs (85) and provides, according to Newell, “an invaluable presence on the court.” It should be noted that she was injured and didn’t play in the two matches the Huskies lost.

The Huskies, under Tom Gardner, set a program record for wins last year with 22, ending a string of seven consecutive losing seasons. USM’s program originally ran from 1967-86. There was no team from 1987-95. It resumed from 1996-2006, then shut down for the next two years.

Nilson believes this team can be special.

“I think we have a chance to do really great things this year,” she said. “Our confidence is strong. We want to make the conference tournament and see how it goes from there.”

The key, she said, is “to play our game and have fun. That’s what it’s all about.”

BOWDOIN COLLEGE

Junior Rachel Kennedy of Trumbull, Connecticut, was named the New England Small College Athletic Conference field hockey Player of the Week. Kennedy scored both goals in the Polar Bears’ 2-1 win over Amherst, giving her three for the season.

 Junior Christy Jewett of Sunnyvale, California, was named the NESCAC women’s volleyball Player of the Week. Jewett averaged 3.45 kills and 3.20 digs per set while totaling 20 service aces and 11 blocks in helping the Polar Bears go 4-1.

ST. JOSEPH’S COLLEGE

Senior Amber Dostie of Standish (Bonny Eagle) was named Great Northeast Athletic Conference women’s cross country Runner of the Week. Dostie placed ninth of 140 runners in the University of New England Invitational last weekend, finishing in 19 minutes, 36 seconds.

 Sophomore Nick Shuckrow of Winslow was the GNAC men’s cross country Runner of the Week while freshman Lucas Fisher of Strafford, New Hampshire, was the GNAC Rookie of the Week. Shuckrow ran a career-best 27:39 on the 8-kilometer course to finish 14th of 145 runners in the UNE Invitational. Fisher ran a 27:43 in his first collegiate race to finish 17th overall.

 Junior middle blocker Felicia Wachowiak of Milton, New Hampshire, was selected as the GNAC women’s volleyball Defensive Player of the Week. She had 19 blocks with 13 solos and six assists over three matches. She leads the Monks with 76 kills, 31 solo blocks and nine block assists.

 Sophomore Michael Caron of Gorham was named the GNAC Golfer of the Week for the second consecutive week. He was co-medalist with a 75 in the UMaine-Farmington Invitational, then finished fourth with a 147 (71-76) in the Maine Intercollegiate Championship.

UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND

Freshman forward Becca Murphy of Durham, New Hampshire, was named Commonwealth Coast Conference women’s soccer Offensive Player of the Week after scoring winning goals against Endicott and Husson. Sophomore goalkeeper Brielle Robinson of Monson, Massachusetts, was named Defensive Player of the Week for her efforts, which included nine saves against Endicott.

 Sophomore forward Nicole Matarozzo of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, was named CCC field hockey Offensive Player of the Week. She had a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win against Nichols.

 Junior C.J. Vallie of Nashua, New Hampshire, was named CCC men’s cross country Runner of the Week after finishing first in the UNE Invitational, covering the 8-kilometer course in 26:15. Sophomore Brittney Sorbello of Dover, New Hampshire, was the CCC women’s cross country Runner of the Week after winning the UNE Invitational with a time of 18:40 on the 5-kilometer course. Angel Waters of Limerick (Massabesic) was women’s Rookie of the Week after finishing fifth in 18:48.

 Junior Paul Butkevich of Pomfret, Connecticut, was selected CCC Golfer of the Week. He finished 10th in the UMaine-Farmington Invitational and sixth in the Maine Intercollegiate Championship with a 150 (77-73).

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE

Sophomore Elijah Leverett of North Yarmouth (Greely) was selected as Little East Conference men’s soccer Goalkeeper of the Week while sophomore Jonathan Varney of Readfield (Maranacook) earned LEC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Leverett had eight saves in a 1-0 victory over St. Joseph’s College for his first career shutout. Varney scored the winning goal in that game, 48 seconds into overtime.