SOUTH PORTLAND—Southern Maine Community College’s men’s basketball team is off to a nearly perfect start this season and the women’s squad is showing signs of promise as well.
Matt Richards is now in his 12th season as the coach of the SeaWolves men’s program and has been pleasantly surprised as to what he’s witnessed so far, considering the team welcomed 11 new players.
“We’re off to a better start than I thought we’d be,” said Richards. “When you graduate an All-American point guard (Jose Nouchanthavong) and a couple kids who played in your program for a couple years, it’s tough.”
SMCC, which went 21-9 a year ago, reaching the Yankee Small College Conference semifinals before losing to St. Joseph (Vt.), 79-65, opened the 2014-15 campaign with wins over St. Thomas University (66-59), University of New Brunswick (63-59), Navy Prep (84-80, in a double overtime thriller) and Berkeley of New York City (81-79) before falling at Bridgton Academy (67-60). The SeaWolves bounced right back with wins over Vermont Tech (70-53), Unity (97-53) and Hampshire College (90-44). Atencio Martin had 18 points at Unity, while Carlos Gonzalez had 13 at Hampshire College.
“I didn’t know how we’d be early,” Richards said. “Our schedule was heavier with competition than it’s been in the past. We’ve played well early. Bridgton was a great game for us in a difficult environment.
“The kids bought in early to the concept of really having to work hard. What’s we’re good at right now is effort things. We’re very good defensively. We’re good at rebounding the ball and limiting the other team to one-and-dones. I don’t know if we’re efficient yet offensively at execution stuff. We’ve held most of our opponents to the low 60s. That’s good stuff. The kids bought into getting themselves in shape in the preseason. It’s a pretty cohesive group.”
Top returners include Martin and Alex Hartford at the forward position, point guards Jordan Derosby and Justin Robbins and shooting guards Josh Gormley and Emanuel Perry.
“Atencio Martin was our leading returning scorer last year and he’s embraced that role,” said Richards. “He’s had several nice games early on. He’s elevated his game. Jordan Derosby has done a nice job taking over the point guard position, giving us nice minutes there.”
The SeaWolves have an abundance of newcomers this season, with an infusion of size really making a difference to this point.
“Where we’ve really improved from last year is at the center position,” said Richards. “Carlos Gonzalez from Lewiston and Jack Tolan from South Portland have done a really nice job and give us a potent weapon in the paint we haven’t had the past couple years.”
Thomas Enerva is another center to watch.
Two other newcomers don’t really deserve that moniker. Forward Tyheem Simon and guard Josh Tuplin both spent time with the program in the past.
Other newcomers include Kevin Fabian, Nick Guiod, John Morgan, Chase Soares, Francis Spraus and Grayson Waterman.
SMCC still has a lot of heavy lifting to come in conference. Prior to the semester break, the SeaWolves will play at top contenders New Hampshire Technical Institute and rival Central Maine Community College.
“I think in the league, it’s going to be interesting,” Richards said. “The College of St. Joe’s returns four starters after making it to the championship game and will be really good. Central Maine Community College will be really tough. They play hard. NHTI is much improved. Those three teams you’ll see vying for the top spot.”
Look for this team to continue to evolve and be in position to make noise at the conference tournament in February.
“I think we could be in the conversation,” Richards said. “I think consistency in the coaching staff has made a big difference for the program. Having Chad Cichon for all 12 years, Ryan Chicoine back for a second year, Joe Jardine having played for me. Consistency really helps building a program.”
The SMCC women have a very different look this season after graduating All-American Danielle McCusker and the program’s all-time assist leader, Esther Palmieri, who is now an assistant coach.
The SeaWolves are coming off the second best record in program history (19-8 after a 75-67 loss to the University of Maine-Augusta in the YSCC semifinals) and hope to keep the good times rolling.
SMCC struggled early, winning just twice in its first five games. After a 66-48 victory over Cegep Champlain St. Lawrence, the SeaWolves lost to the University of New Brunswick (61-55). A 76-48 win at Bunker Hill CC was followed by losses to Berkeley of NYC (68-38) and Navy Prep (84-64), but SMCC has hit its stride with wins over Vermont Tech (108-53), Unity College (93-51) and Hampshire College (89-27) to improve to 5-3 at press time. Amira Jones had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the romp at Unity, then had another double-double (18 points, 14 boards) at Hampshire. Zyrah Guistra added 14 points in the latter victory.
“Things are going well,” said second-year coach Julia Howe. “We started off a little slower than last year, but we don’t have the experience and we’ve had some tougher games at the beginning. That’s given us valuable experience.”
Guistra, a top defender, is one of five returners. She’s joined by Alicia Hoyt, who can do a little of everything. Hoyt missed almost all of last season with a knee injury, but will be heard from this winter. Jaimi Poland plays guard and forward and Maria Veino will be a factor down low. Tiana Burton, who played in 2012-13, is also back.
Jones, from Chicopee, Massachusetts, is the freshman making the biggest name for herself, but there are several others who are helping the cause. Katy Cyr, Jennifer Genthner, Samantha Griffin, Kendra Kagiliery, Caitlin King, Abby Nielsen (who played at both Greely and Yarmouth) and Jordan Turner round out the roster.
“I have Alicia Hoyt back,” Howe said. “She’s done a really good job for me. I have some really good freshmen. Amira is probably my best player right now. She leads us in points and rebounds. She’s a physical kid. She plays like she’s much bigger. She’s a force to be reckoned with. Kendra Kagiliery, from Traip, has been a pleasant surprise. Jenn Genther, a center from Lincoln, is second in points and is our second leading rebounder and Samantha Griffin, from Medomak, has given us another shooter.
“For our conference, we’re probably one of the bigger teams. We have depth at the post position. We have a good variety of size and speed. I think we all like each other, which is good. We just don’t know how to play with each other right now. We haven’t played to our strength. We should be outrebounding everybody, but I think our margin should be higher than it has been. We have to utilize our strengths better. I have four returners who know me, so it’s not a feel-out process for a whole year. They know what I expect. They can hold the incoming class accountable, which is nice.”
The SeaWolves, who are already 3-0 in conference, get their first look at preseason favorite and top rival CMCC Dec. 11. There will be other tests as well.
“I would say CM is going to be tough,” Howe said. “They’re preseason poll number one. St. Joe’s of Vermont was decent last year. This year, they return their top two players. They could be a challenge.”
SMCC hopes to go even deeper in the conference tournament than last year’s team and if this squad continues to improve, that’s a tangible goal.
“I definitely think it’s realistic to go to the championship game in the conference tournament this year,” Howe said. “If we jell and continue to get better, that’s definitely a possibility.”
Atencio Martin is a top returner and a leading offensive standout for the SMCC men’s basketball team this season.
Maria Veino is a top returner for the SMCC women, who are coming off a stellar season.