The Southern Maine Community College men’s and women’s basketball teams traveled to the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association Division II national championship in Newport News, Virginia last week full of hope, but both squads were ousted in the quarterfinals.
The men, ranked first, were upset by No. 9 Penn State-Mont Alto. 71-67, despite 15 points from Tyheem Simon. The Seawolves couldn’t quite rally from a 14-point second half deficit.
“We had a six-minute spell where we just couldn’t put it in the basket,” lamented SMCC men’s coach and athletic director Matt Richards. “We had great looks, but we missed layups. You don’t get do-overs. We got down 12, but came back strong. We got it to two and they made free throws and we lost by four. That team was on an incredible run and wound up playing for the championship. We played the wrong team at the wrong time.”
After losing to Penn State-York in the consolation round, 83-79 (despite 18 points from Simon), SMCC finished the season 23-4.
“Bottom line, we ended the season 23-4, out at Nationals, with the top 10 best teams in the country,” Richards said. “I had a great group of kids who honestly, maybe played above their abilities at times during the season to get us there. I can’t complain. Yeah, you’d like to win at Nationals, especially with that top ranking, but if you asked me in October what I thought we’d be, this wasn’t anything near what I thought we’d be. I’m very pleased and happy with the kids. We didn’t wow you in the layup line or the pregame, but we did fundamental things very, very well. We played really good team defense, forced difficult shots. We outrebounded teams by nine a game. When you those things, you give yourself a shot. Different kids stepped up at different times to lead us.”
SMCC will lose some key contributors, but as always, Richards will put together a competitive squad next season that will be quite capable of playing into March again.
“I feel good about the program moving forward,” Richards said. “We have six or seven returners coming back. We have to fill some holes. If our guys coming in meet the standards we hope they meet and they buy into our offseason programs and our returners have a similar offseason to last year, I think we’ll be in good shape. There’s a lot of ifs there.”
SMCC’s women, ranked sixth, were ousted by No. 3 Penn State-Lehigh Valley, 74-67. Jaimi Poland led the way with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
“I thought we got a pretty good draw,” said Seawolves women’s coach Julia Howe. “We were in a really close game the whole time. I was proud of my kids. For us, it was defensive slip-ups. We didn’t get stops when we should have.”
In the consolation round, the Seawolves beat Berkeley (N.Y.) by a 62-57 score. Amira Jones had 19 points and 13 rebounds as SMCC won at game at Nationals for the first time and finished 21-9, matching a program record for victories in a season.
“That (consolation game) was a big game for us because they beat us by 30 the first semester,” Howe said. “The first semester didn’t go as well as our second. We were a much different team in March than December. We got a chance to redeem ourselves. The kids went out and gave me everything they have and we went out on a positive note.
“I didn’t have a ton of upperclassmen this year. Freshmen played big minutes for me. We went to Presque Isle and had a big comeback win and it clicked. Kids embraced their roles and good things happened for us.”
The Seawolves figure to be strong again in 2015-16.
“I’m returning three of five starters definitely and If I can return Jordan Turner, that would be four, but she’s a big question mark,” Howe said. “We could have a very good season next year. We’ll see in September, but I have high hopes.”
Looking at the big picture, all in all, it was quite a season and quite a trip to the big stage for a program that keeps adding to its legacy.
“Taking off the basketball hat and putting on the athletic director’s hat, it was a big step for our program to be out on the national stage,” Richards said. “We’ve been on this stage before and it was meaningful, but every year, as the national association grows, it gets harder and harder to do. The ante is much higher now. To play at that level really says a lot about our program, about our school’s commitment. Our college does a really good job of supporting us and values what we provide. We give them something to be proud of. It’s a feather in the cap of the program.”