Bowdoin College forward Hannah Graham and her Polar Bears battle SUNY New Paltz State in NCAA Division III Tournament action tonight inside Morrell Gymnasium in Brunswick at 7 p.m. (Brian Beard / CiPhotography.com)

BRUNSWICK — As the Polar Bears play host to New Paltz State tonight at 7 p.m. in the “Sweet 16” round of the Division III women’s basketball tournament, all four Bowdoin seniors — Taylor Choate, Hannah Graham, Abby Kelly and Cordelia Stewart —prepare to walk on the Morrell Gymnasium floor for the last time this weekend.

Tonight’s winner will face the survivor of the contest before, between DeSales and Ithaca, on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“We don’t want to think about it being our last games on campus,” Graham said.

“Basketball has been an outlet for so many years,” added Stewart.

For Graham and Stewart, each have taken similar paths the last four years, and both have worked into their roles on a very talented team.

“When I was in high school, Coach (Adrienne) Shibles was recruiting me, and she shared what their (coaches) expectations were of incoming players, and I felt like this was a fit for me,” Stewart, a pre-med major, said.

“We saw right away Cordelia was going to fit right in, she’s team first,” Shibles said of the 2015 Bangor High School graduate. “Her work ethic and willingness to do anything the team needs was huge to us. We knew she flew under the radar after injuring her knee her junior year in high school, but we knew she was an ‘obvious fit for Bowdoin’ and we’re glad she chose to come here.”

For Graham, the recruiting road was a little different. A graduate from Presque Isle High School, the 5-foot-9 guard was recruited by multiple programs after scoring over 1,000 points while a member of two State Class B championship teams.

“Location was a big factor to me,” the 2015 Miss Maine basketball finalist said. “I had talked with some D-II schools, but Bowdoin was already four-and-a-half hours away, anything else would have been out of state and further away.”

Traveling was something her and her family were familiar with as she traveled to Falmouth at least once a week to play on an AAU team with other Maine stars her age.

“That was something that impressed us with her,” Shibles said. “She was willing to travel almost five hours to become a better player, that kind of dedication stood out to us.”

Four years at Bowdoin

After three successful seasons, including a runner-up finish to Amherst in the D-III title game a year ago, expectations were set high by the Polar Bears coming into this season.

“We knew we had unfinished business. I love my team, we play so well together, you can’t be a team if you can’t play as a team,” Stewart said.

Bowdoin College forward Cordelia Stewart, putting up a shot in her team’s season opener against Regis in November 2018, leads the Polar Bears against SUNY New Paltz State in Brunswick tonight at 7 p.m. (Brian Beard / CiPhotography.com)

Shibles points out, Stewart has led by example and it shows in her team’s success.

“She’s one of the hardest workers on the team,” the 2019 NESCAC Coach of the Year said. “She is so selfless, never complains and does anything we ask of her. I got a message from an alum that she was running on a local track in the Bangor area. While she was there, she saw Cordelia running the stairs in the bleachers, always trying to get better.”

Stewart has played in all 29 games this season, averaging almost 14 minutes per game. The 6-foot-2 center started 10 of her career 37 total games for the Polar Bears this season, grabbing four boards a contest and averaging just under four points.

“We (coaches) talked about finding a role on the team,” Stewart said. “I’ll do whatever, I just want to work hard, play hard and do whatever is best for the team.”

As Shibles points out, all of her seniors on this year’s “Sweet 16” squad have all experienced the roller coaster ride of college athletics, and points out Stewart has excelled.

“Like all of our seniors, Cordy is resilient and team first,” Shibles said. “I give a lot of credit to them, as they have the confidence they can win in any situation. The seniors have proven to themselves of what type of players they can be. They have all faced ups and downs over the four years.”

Stewart credits the Bowdoin Alumni, players before her that set the tone for her college years.

“We learned from the players back when we were freshmen,” Stewart said. “Coach Meg (Phelps, a 2015 graduate and now assistant coach) and seniors helped recruit us. We  learned so much from them back then, we learned that every voice on the team is important and we now incorporate that with our underclassmen.”

As for this weekend’s games, Stewart is well aware of what needs to be done.

“We acknowledge that they’re going to bring their best,” Stewart said of New Paltz State. “We can’t be complacent and with the experiences we’ve had, we know we need to be calm and poised.”

Graham

After she committed to Bowdoin during her senior year in high school, Graham began her four years on the Brunswick campus running out of the gate.

“I had an overnight with the players during the recruiting process and I knew this was the place,” said the sociology major, who is looking into social research opportunities. “I came in and always asked questions as a first-year. The former players and alumni have been a part of my success here at Bowdoin. They would help us with scheduling, study habits and the balancing of school and basketball. There were always a lot of different personalities on the team and the upperclassmen were really helpful with all of that.”

The tri-captain played in 24 games her freshman year, appeared in 27 the following, while showing up in all 32 box scores last season. This  year, she cracked the starting lineup, starting 23 games, and with increased minutes, posted an average of  7.4 points a game, while finishing up the season as Bowdoin’s all-time leader in 3-point percentage (42.3 percent).

“She is a pure shooter that can get to the rim. She has a full skill set that we look for, she clearly has the passion to play,” Shibles said. “Her influence and work ethic on our younger players is unmatched.”

One of this year’s highlights for Graham was returning to Presque Isle for a non-conference tilt against the University of Maine-Presque Isle. The senior led the Polar Bears in scoring that night, netting 15 points in front of her hometown crowd.

“It was nice to do that,” Graham said. “My teammates wanted me to score and kept feeding me the ball.”

Win or lose this weekend, the impact the seniors have had on the program will be felt for years to come, from this year’s juniors to next year’s incoming student athletes.

Regardless how this weekend ends, Shibles knows that these two will shine in any future endeavors.

“Of course they will, Cordy is going to be a rock-star doctor and Hannah will be incredibly great in life, no doubt in my mind,” Shibles concluded.

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