Abby Kelly (22) of Bowdoin College looks up the court with Ithaca’s Sara Jackson (33) defending during NCAA Division III basketball action in Brunswick on Saturday. Kelly had 18 points as the Polar Bears rolled to an 87-61 victory. (Brian Beard /

BRUNSWICK — The goal was simple for the Bowdoin College women’s basketball team on Saturday in the Division III “Elite 8” contest inside Morrell Gymnasium.

Just two weeks earlier, the Polar Bears watched rival Tufts cut down the nets on their home floor after winning the NESCAC championship.

Frankly, according to Bowdoin seniors Abby Kelly and Taylor Choate, there was no way that was going to happen again.

Kelly and Choate led a second-half charge, and the Polar Bears owned the paint in an 87-61 victory over Ithaca, sending Bowdoin back to the Final Four for the second straight year and keeping alive the team’s chance of claiming its first national title.

Leading 36-31 at the half, Kelly scored five quick points, and when Choate completed a three-point play with 7:01 remaining in the third quarter, the Polar Bears (30-1) suddenly had a 46-33 advantage.

“It’s halftime and there is 20 minutes left to play in Morrell, so we wanted to go out with a bang, knowing we will never do this again. It hyped us up,” said Choate, who led Bowdoin with 21 points in the win.

“We are blessed to have played here, to have the opportunity to cut down the net in our last game at Morrell,” added Kelly, who scored 14 of her 18 points in the second half. “Most can’t say their ending at home was like ours. Every fan from a 2-year-old to those that are 90 were here, rooting us on. Playing at home was amazing, and we worked hard to have that chance.”

It was something head coach Adrienne Shibles mentioned towards the end of her halftime speech that fired her Polar Bears up, leading to the strong start to the third quarter.

“We mentioned that Tufts had lost (44-40 to Scranton) and we were the only NESCAC team left,” said Shibles.

The Bowdoin College women’s basketball team and coaches poses for a photo after defeating Ithaca, 87-61, in the national quarterfinals in Brunswick on Saturday. (Brian Beard /

“I think that fired us up. It was tough to see Tufts cut down the nets in Morrell, so we felt it was our turn to cut down our nets.”

“Basketball is a game of ebb and flow, and unfortunately we were unable to answer when they made their run,” said Ithaca (25-6) coach Dan Raymond. “It is obvious how good Bowdoin is, and we had a difficult time stopping them, which puts pressure on us in the offensive end. They just played better than we did in the second half.”

“They are just a very good team, and the first five minutes of the third quarter is what got us,” added Ithaca senior Annie Giannone, who led the Bombers with 12 points. “They put us into a pretty big hole, and we were unable to dig ourselves out of that.”

Board domination

From the opening tip, Bowdoin had the edge inside. Ithaca forwards Cassidy O’Malley and Abbi Field spent a majority of the opening half on the bench with three fouls, and the Polar Bears, after outrebounding the Bobcats, 17-4, in the first quarter, held a 27-9 edge on the glass in the first half.

Still, Ithaca hung in, thanks to forcing eight Bowdoin turnovers and making 5-of-11 from beyond the arc.

Bowdoin led 22-15 after a quarter as Maddie Hasson powered her way to eight points, with Sam Roy and Choate adding four each. The Polar Bears made 5-of-6 at the free-throw line over the first 10 minutes, and their hard work led to eight more free throws in the second.

“We talked about owning the paint,” Shibles said. “The losses (Ithaca) suffered this season, they got outrebounded. That was a big focus for us. They swing a lot, and we wanted to take advantage of that and get to the line.”

Bowdoin College forward Maddie Hasson (14) looks for room during Saturday night’s “Elite 8” women’s basketball game against Ithaca. The Polar Bears won, 87-61, to advance to next weekend’s Division III national semifinals in Salem, Va. (Brian Beard /

Bowdoin owned a 29-22 lead with 6:09 left in the first half, but the Bombers made a run as Giannone hit a trey and Meghan Mazzella came off the bench for four big points to bring Ithaca to 32-31.

The Polar Bears gained some space when Hannah Graham stepped back and nailed her second 3-pointer for a five-point lead at the break.

“It was huge going into the locker room with that little bit of cushion,” said Shibles. “Hannah gave us a lot of good moments tonight. Hannah did a nice job on number four (Grace Cannon, six points) as well tonight.”

After shooting just 37.5-percent from the field in the first half (12-of-32), Bowdoin charged out of the gates in the second. Choate drove inside for two, and Kelly rattled home a short jumper for a 40-31 lead. Kelly’s 3-pointer and Choate’s hoop and harm put Ithaca into a 13-point hole.

Bowdoin attempted just 16 treys in the game, instead choosing to drive inside for layup attempts.

“We are more than one dimensional. We can score in different ways, and we can adjust,” said Choate, who picked up 10 third-quarter points as Bowdoin carried a 59-49 edge to the fourth quarter.

Ithaca tried to draw closer in the final frame, but Bowdoin shifted into another gear. An 11-4 run upped the Polar Bear lead to 71-55 with 5:12 remaining, and Bowdoin continued to pull away as Hasson added five more points to her 16-point night. Roy finished with 13 points and Graham added 10 as the starting Bowdoin five produced 78 points.

“That is what makes us such a threat to other teams,” said Kelly, who described her team’s efforts. “Tonight, our starting five were all in double digits, which says a lot about how dynamic we are. There is not one scorer that leads in scoring every single night. It is Maddy in the paint, Taylor hitting a three, Sam getting to the rim and taking incredible layup shots that are going in, Cordy (Stewart) blocking shots. It is all these different people. We count on each other and have confidence in each other.”

For Ithaca, it was a solid season.

“This was the second time in program history that we have gotten this far, and it was that senior class that got us here.

Bowdoin College women’s basketball coach Adrienne Shibles holds up the cutdown net after her Polar Bears defeated Ithaca, 87-61, in Saturday night’s NCAA Division III “Elite 8” contest inside Morrell Gymnasium in Brunswick. Bowdoin faces St. Thomas (Minnesota) in the Division III national semifinals on Friday in Salem, Va. See the story and more photos in sports. (Brian Beard /

They created a legacy here that no one will ever forget,” said Raymond.

Now, Bowdoin heads to Salem, Virginia, for the national semifinals against St. Thomas (Minnesota), which defeated Wartburg on Saturday.

“It is a huge accomplishment and we have worked really hard for it,” said Shibles of her Polar Bears. “I am super excited for our four seniors. They have led this team in every way. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of selflessness, to play with a ‘team-first’ mentality. These ladies are amazing human beings.”

“We worked really hard, and we knew that we wanted to get back there and get better every day,” said Choate, who smiled as she watched her teammates cut down the nets, with the Bowdoin crowd chanting “Thank you Bowdoin” and the Sister Sledge song “We Are Family” playing in the background.

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