BRUNSWICK — It was 15 years ago when the Bowdoin College women’s basketball team had the opportunity to host an NCAA Division III “Sweet 16” and “Elite 8” regional inside Morrell Gymnasium.

The 2003/04 Polar Bears were a team to remember. Coached by Stefanie Pemper, Bowdoin was undefeated and the NESCAC champion when it hosted Salve Regina in the second round, a 57-44 victory.

The following week, the Polar Bears entertained the University of Southern Maine in the “Sweet 16” and held on for a 59-55 victory. The next day, Bowdoin stopped Scranton, 71-58, in the national quarterfinals and advanced to the Final Four. After defeating Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 64-59, the Polar Bears saw their chance at a national title dashed by Wilmington (Ohio), 59-53, in the program’s first national final appearance.

There have been solid Bowdoin teams since then, including last year’s national finalists. But, the Polar Bears have been forced to hit the road after the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament each year since that 2003/04 campaign.

That is until this year. Tonight, the Polar Bears, ranked third in the poll, will be home against SUNY New Paltz State at 7 p.m. This follows the opener, when Ithaca takes on DeSales at 5 p.m. inside Morrell Gymnasium to kick off the sectional.

“Any time you get to this point of the NCAA Tournament, all the teams are incredibly good,” said Bowdoin coach Adrienne Shibles.

Here is a look at the four teams in this weekend’s sectional:

Bowdoin Polar Bears

Bowdoin (28-1) entered the 2019 NCAA Tournament coming off its one and only loss, 75-69, in the NESCAC title game against rival Tufts.

The Polar Bears were dominant in a 93-73 first-round win over Hunter College last Friday.

Then came an encounter with Smith College in the second round. With former standout Kate Kerrigan an assistant for Smith, the Polar Bears struggled to find their game, trailing entering the fourth quarter.

Led by Bowdoin guard Taylor Choate, the Polar Bears rallied, coming all the way back for an 87-78 victory. Choate, a senior, tied a team record with points (38) and set one with made 3-pointers (seven).

Bowdoin has the top offense in the sectional heading into this weekend, averaging 84.4 points a game while allowing just 55.6 a contest.

The scoring is balanced throughout the lineup, with senior Abby Kelly’s 14.8 points leading the way, followed by junior Maddie Hasson’s 14.2 and Choate’s 13. Hasson leads the Polar Bears with 5.8 rebounds a contest, while point guard Sam Roy quarterbacks Bowdoin by dishing out 4.3 assists a game. Bowdoin averages nearly 17 assists a contest.

“We need to take care of the ball,” said Shibles.

New Paltz State Hawks

Based in New Paltz, New York, the Hawks are the champions of the SUNYAC, defeating Geneseo, 63-57, in overtime in the title game.

The 25-4 Hawks are hot, having won 21 straight contests after starting the year 4-4. New Paltz State defeated Rutgers-Newark, 65-36, in the opening round, then cruised to an 80-49 victory in the D-III tournament second round against Emmanuel.

The Hawks average 73.6 points a game, led by senior Rachel Simon (18.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 42 steals), SUNYAC Player of the Year Lindsay Bettke (15.5 points, 91 assists), a senior, and junior Marion Dietz (10.8 points).

Defensively, New Paltz State allowed 59.8 points a contest this year. Eight Hawks were members of the 2017 “Sweet 16” squad.

“They beat us in the 2017 first round (62-61 at Ithaca, New York),” said Shibles. “We know some of their players that played in that game. They are the fifth best 3-point shooting team in the nation, and they try to draw you out. New Paltz is good at drawing fouls, but we still need to contest their shots.”

Ithaca Bombers

This will not be Ithaca’s first appearance inside Morrell Gymnasium.

The 24-5 Bombers out of New York faced Bowdoin in the second round of the D-III tournament in 2011 and 2015, with the Polar Bears coming out on top on both occasions.

Ithaca has won eight straight games, including capturing the Liberty League title, 75-73 in overtime over RIT, before defeating SUNY Poly (68-58) and Saint Joseph’s College (74-63) in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Ithaca averages 69.3 points a game while allowing 54.8.

Junior Cassidy O’Malley leads the Bombers in scoring with 15.1 points a contest with 5.9 rebounds. Senior Annie Giannone (9.8 points, 126 assists, 65 steals) and sophomore Grace Cannon (9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds) are other Bombers to watch.

Head coach Dan Raymond earned his 400th win at Ithaca in the victory over Saint Joseph’s.

DeSales Bulldogs

Possibly the hottest team in the tournament, the Bulldogs meet Ithaca in the “Sweet 16” as 27-2 DeSales University comes to Brunswick riding a 22-game winning streak.

After capturing the MAC Freedom Conference title with a 75-59 victor over Misericordia, the Bulldogs rolled to 77-49 and 70-55 wins over Shenendoah and Middlebury, respectively, in the opening two rounds of the NCAA tourney.

DeSales, with its campus in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, has been a scoring machine, picking up an average of 79.1 a contest while allowing just 52.8.

Senior Leandra Sterner leads the balanced Hawks with 14.1 points a game, followed closely by freshman Samantha Shinkus (13.2), senior Morgan Birmelin (13.1, D-III leading 7.5 assists per game) and freshman Averi Jordan (11.9). Senior Bridget Walsh leads in the defensive end, hauling in 8.4 rebounds a contest.

Friday’s winners meet Saturday in the “Elite 8” at 7 p.m

The Bowdoin College bench reacts after the Polar Bears rallied to take the lead against defending Division III national champion Amherst earlier this season. Bowdoin takes on SUNY New Paltz State tonight at 7 p.m. in the sectional “Sweet 16” contest at Morrell Gymnasium in Brunswick. (Brian Beard /

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