SMCC coaches see silver linings, look ahead

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There were a lot of “what-ifs” surrounding the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Southern Maine Community College this winter, but the Seawolves managed to create some highlights along the way.

The women, under first-year coach Kendra Reichert, got off to a sizzling 11-1 start (including an 11-game win streak) and were the league darlings during the 2011 portion of the schedule, but things changed dramatically in the new year, as injury combined with a challenging slate of games against teams with strengthened rosters caused SMCC to struggle and finish 15-11.

The Seawolves earned the No. 5 seed for the Yankee Small College Conference and drew rival No. 4 Central Maine CC in the quarterfinals. SMCC beat the Mustangs back in December, 56-33, but lost the rematch in Auburn, 82-56.

The Seawolves hung tough for a half in the playoff meeting before CMCC, which would go ton win the conference tournament, prevailed, 80-64, ending SMCC’s year at 15-12.

Emily Bard had a team-high 20 points and Katelyn Benson added 13 points and 11 rebounds in the setback.

“I have a lot of mixed emotions,” said Reichert. “Overall, I’m very happy with the team that I had, not having any time to recruit. I’m very pleased with the girls and the effort they gave. I was excited to have a good start.

“On the flip side, I was disappointed with how things ended and that we never got out of our January funk. I think it was a combination of a lot of things. It started with Katelyn Benson coming down with mono and Emily Bard having a knee injury. They both became healthy, but we never got back to a rhythm. We had a really tough non-conference schedule in January and it hurt our confidence level. We just didn’t get it done when we needed to.”

Benson (13.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game in her freshman season) and Marissa Welch (11.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game) were named to the All-Conference team.

Both girls, along with several others, could be on next year’s roster, meaning the Seawolves will be formidable in 2012-13.

“In theory, eight of our 10 could be back next year,” said Reichert. “Realistically, maybe five or six. Recruiting has been going well so far. It looks like we’ll getting some good size in next year. Katelyn progressed well from start to finish, especially with a lull in the middle with illness. She turned it on the end. Emily Bard matured a lot from start to finish. I think we’ll see good things from her next year. Esther Palmieri really stepped up with leadership toward the end. We’ll expect that from her next year too. In terms of preparation and how quickly we get game-ready, it’ll all be a lot easier next year.”

The men’s team has been a perennial league and even national contender under coach Matt Richards, but SMCC faced its share of challenges this winter.

The Seawolves went 12-17 in the regular season and wound up eighth for the conference tournament, but nearly sprung a monumental upset before dropping a 58-54 decision to top-ranked Eastern Maine CC in the quarterfinals.

EMCC beat SMCC by 16 and 21 points in the regular season, but the Seawolves jumped to an early lead and were in the game all the way to the final horn before falling just short.

Standout Josh Mackie (who passed the 1,000-point mark for his career in a loss to CMCC back in December) bowed out with 14 points. Joe Jardine, in his final contest, had five points, four rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals, while freshman Anderson Santana chipped in 12 points and 15 boards.

“We came out and went up 8-0, hit (EMCC) in the mouth and they had to call timeout,” Richards said. “We were down two with 35 seconds left. We missed a shot and had to foul. They hit the two free throws. We had three shots to a get a basket and time wound down. It was good to see us compete. It was unfortunate because we could have a big upset. Now, it’s back to the drawing board.

“We had eight games that we lost by five points or under. If we got even half of those, we’d be at .500, which I thought earlier in the year that would be good with this group because we were so young. That was my goal. This was my most challenging year with the inexperience we had. We took some different philosophies in recruiting that didn’t pan out for us. Live and learn. I’ve been out more this year than I have been the last couple and I think it’ll pay dividends next year.”

While Mackie was named to the All-Conference team, other players made their mark as the season progressed.

“Two kids really stick out in my mind, they were freshman,” Richards said. “Nate Dow became a legitimate post big man in our conference. If you told me that in October, I would have laughed at you. I thought the last month of the season, he competed at a very high level for us and gave us a true inside-outside threat. Chance Baldino, I wasn’t sure what he’d be able to contribute. His work ethic gave us something good every night.

“Mackie played great. Joey’s not a great stat sheet guy, but he played with toughness and gave us a little of the leadership we lacked. It was probably a disappointing season for them compared to what they’re used to.”

Expect this winter to be an aberration and for SMCC to be right back at the top of the standings in 2012-13.

“I’m expecting to have six back,” said Richards, who will enter his 10th season next year. “That’s a nice core. The last time we lost in the first round of the playoffs, that offseason our kids really bought into getting better. We came back and won the conference tournament, then won it again. I’m curious to see if that will be similar.

“I feel really good about recruiting right now. We’re in on a lot of kids. A lot of kids have expressed interest and have come to games. If I get the ones I think we’ll get, we’ll be really good. Next year will be interesting. With expansion, our league has become significantly more competitive from top to bottom. That ups the ante for all of us. We’ll have to get to work.”

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

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.