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New hoops season underway at SMCC

Sports

New hoops season underway at SMCC

There's plenty of new this season with the Southern Maine Community College basketball programs, but both the men and women expect to continue their recent runs of success.

Surprising depth

In 2010-11, SMCC's women's team finished 14-16 overall (9-4 in conference) and won the Yankee Small Conference postseason title before falling in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association national tournament.

The Seawolves continued their recent trend of having more coaches on the bench than players as numbers were scarce at best.

This season, SMCC doesn't face that problem as first-year coach Kendra Reichert actually has the luxury of having her players go 5-on-5 in practice.

Reichert, who came to the Seawolves this summer from Cazenovia College in New York, has been very happy with what she's seen in the early going.

"I'm pleasantly surprised," Reichert said. "When we started Oct. 1, we were having practices with four or five girls at a time until the fall season got over. Then, we got our softball and soccer players in the mix and now we're running with 10. Practices are going really well. We've got a lot of depth. A lot of freshmen that I think will contribute a lot through the season. I'd say our depth and our speed are strengths."

SMCC was 3-1 at press time, bouncing back from an 84-39 loss to St. Thomas University of New Brunswick in the Can-Am tourney opener with victories over Nova Scotia (62-57), Naval Academy Prep (88-47) and Eastern Maine CC (71-62).

Leading the way to date have been freshman Katelyn Benson, who scored 12 points in the opener, had 24 points and nine boards against Naval Prep and was selected as the USCAA Women's Basketball Player of the Week, and classmate Marissa Welch (12 points in the opener, 18 points and 13 boards against Nova Scotia, 13 points in the win over Naval Prep and 15 points and a mindboggling 23 boards versus EMCC).

Sophomores Hanna Lyons of Scarborough (seven rebounds, two steals in the opener), Esther Palmieri of South Portland (14 points against Naval Prep) and Jessica Truman (11 points versus Nova Scotia) and freshmen Emily Bard (18 points against Nova Scotia and 12 versus Naval Prep) and Stefanie Saavedra (10 points off the bench in the win over Naval Prep) have also made an early mark.

The roster also consists of junior Kimmie Preston and freshmen Britney Leach and Kristal Saavedra.

Reichert feels she has a lot to work with, even with a small team that features just one player who stands 6-feet.

"Our point guard, Hanna Lyons, is lightning quick," Reichert said. "She does a great job pushing the ball up the floor. I think that's one of the ways we'll be successful. We'll run a lot and hopefully run teams off the floor. Katelyn Benson plays the small forward for us. She has some good moves around the basket. She can step out and hit the 3. She's versatile and is tough for other teams to defend."

Defense will be a focal point for the Seawolves going forward.

"We need to improve on defense," said Reichert. "Rotations and intensity on ball pressure. It's been our focus. It will be something we focus on all season."

Seawolves men's basketball coach and athletic director Matt Richards likes what he's seen so far from the women's squad.

"I'm very, very impressed," Richards said. "I was concerned with the transition. I didn't know how well it would go with four established returners, a new coach, how it would all blend and mesh. I've been thrilled with Kendra's approach to understanding the past, but putting her thumbprint on what needs to happen moving forward. The league dynamic has changed dramatically. I thought it was important for her to come in and put in a direction because there will be new challenges that the girls haven't had in the past."

SMCC won't have many easy games on its schedule, as the league is loaded this winter.

"I think Central Maine CC will be tough," Reichert said. "They're well coached, disciplined and quick. The University of Maine-Augusta is bigger than we are. I'm pretty sure U. Maine-Machias will be tough and (New Hampshire Technical Institute).

"I think we can be a top team. The team dynamic is very positive. The girls are getting along well. They seem to be responding to me well. Hopefully, if we can keep everybody together, keep all 10 girls and keep our depth, we'll be looking good for second semester. The goal is definitely to get back to the conference championship. Anything short of that, the returners will be disappointed. Our newcomers are used to success from high school and are hungry for that as well."

Great upside

The SMCC men have been in the conference and national forefront since Richards took over in 2003-04. Now in his ninth season, Richards faces a bigger challenge than in years past.

Last winter, the Seawolves wound up 19-13, were second in the conference tournament and made it to the national tournament, where they won twice and finished sixth.

Most of the key contributors from that team have moved on, meaning Richards will have to rely on a largely untested squad.

"This is the youngest team I've coached," he said. "We graduated a lot of players from last year's successful run. We have a lot of new faces. That is both good and bad. I'm happy with the work ethic that this group has created already. I think this group has to create an identity and get some confidence. We're still struggling with that. I think the kids don't know they're as good as they are. We haven't created chemistry and confidence with each other yet. Once we develop that, this will be a very competitive team. With nine new guys though, you wonder how long it will take.

SMCC only has three returners, seniors Joe Jardine and Josh Mackie and junior Dan Foster (the latter two hail South Portland), but that's a good start.

"Mackie brings an offensive threat," Richards said. "He had 16 points a game last year. He's a marked man whenever he steps on the floor. He needs to understand that, accept it and learn to play with that responsibility. He can shoot very well and gives us an instant threat. Joey might be one of the tough-as-nails kids I've had. You love to have him on your team. If he was on the other team, you wouldn't be able to stand him. Danny Foster is a lead by example kind of guy. No frills. No issues. He's workmanlike. We have to get the new kids meshed in with them."

Nine newcomers seek to make a mark. That group includes sophomore Dan Jamieson, who was on the team a couple years ago.

Sophomore Tyler Cummings and freshmen Chance Baldino, Emmanuel Donalson, Nate Dow, Eddie Grant, Jake Loveridge, Shon Powell and Anderson Santana round out the roster.

"We have three kids from Massachusetts, which is rare for me," Richards said. "I don't usually get out of state kids. Anderson Santana is probably the biggest impact right now. He really plays hard and is a tough matchup. His upside is there. He had a double-double in our opening exhibition game. He works hard on the glass. Donalson and Powell are quick guards from Cape Cod. I've been thrilled with Baldino. He's been a nice surprise. Eddie Grant's a workhorse. Jamieson provides stability. Loveridge has done a nice job filling in. Dow is starting to have good practices."

The team started 2-3. After losing to St. Thomas University (87-72) and beating Nova Scotia (95-47) in the Can-Am tourney, the Seawolves improved to 2-1 with an easy 85-32 victory over Unity. Donalson led the way with 15 points, while Santana chipped in with 11 points and 10 boards. SMCC then lost to Berkeley of New Jersey, 69-64 (despite 14 points and nine rebounds from Santana, 13 points from Donalson and 10 from Foster), and EMCC, 90-74 Saturday, as Mackie went off for 19 points and Jamieson added 11 points, five rebounds and three steals.

Richards knows that his team is a work in progress, but he expects the finished product to be pretty formidable.

"You don't want to change your expectations," Richards said. "It's a brand new team. We went to nationals last year and won a couple games, but three-fourths of that team is gone. This team needs to create its own niche. The new teams really add to a competitive league. U. Maine-Machias, College of St. Joe's and Paul Smith are really good. Add them to Vermont Tech, regular season champs last year, CMCC, which is better than last year, NHTI, a heated rival, and Eastern Maine, which will be a lot better this year too. The top eight are very competitive."

Looking ahead

The first semester schedule ends Dec. 17. The regular season concludes Feb. 18. The YSCC tournament follows and if all goes well, both squads will make it back to the national tournament in March.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.