Each December for the past three and a half decades a few basketball teams head to Bangor for an early-season tournament test.
Most of the time, they head back to their campuses having watched the host Husson College Braves win the trophy emblematic of a championship in the Paul Bunyan Invitational.
Last year’s victim of coach Warren Caruso’s men: the eventual NAIA national champs of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
Caruso said the four-team, two-day affairs for men and women provide a good competitive environment.
“It’s nice to have that atmosphere because a tournament brings another level of play to the table,” Caruso said.
This year’s 35th edition of the Paul Bunyan Invitational gets under way at Newman Gymnasium tonight when the 4-2 University of Maine at Machias women take on 2-2 Bates at 5:30 p.m. The Husson women face Rochester Institute of Technology at 7:30.
A full slate is set for Saturday, with the women’s consolation game set for 1 p.m. and the championship matchup scheduled for 3.
The men take over after that, as the UM-Machias Clippers face New Jersey Institute of Technology at 5:30 p.m. and the Husson men take on Green Mountain College of Poultney, Vt., at 7:30.
The men’s consolation is Sunday at 1 p.m. with the championship matchup to follow.
Coach Kissy Walker’s Husson women look to carry over some of the momentum from Wednesday’s victory over tourney participant UM-Machias.
The 2-1 Braves received a career-best performance from senior guard Leslie Weed of Freedom, who poured in 41 points. She characterizes this small, guard-oriented Husson team which likes to force the tempo.
“The whole team played very unselfishly,” Walker said. “We finally used some screens, hit the nice open person for the shot.”
On Friday, the Braves take on a 1-0 RIT squad coached by former UMaine-Farmington coach Laura Hungerford. The Tigers, who don’t have exceptional height in the frontcourt, return a solid nucleus led by senior guard Amie Banis.
“It’s nice to be home and play in front of a home crowd,” Walker said.
Senior guards Liza Doughty and Katie Nye, along with junior guard/forward Kelly Dow, are other keys for the Husson women.
Caruso’s 2-1 Braves have been led by the play of sophomore transfer Robert Pilsbury, who is averaging 21.0 points per game. Quinson Lancaster is scoring at a 13.7 ppg clip while Matt Breen has averaged 13.0 ppg and 8.7 rebounds per contest.
Caruso, whose team has won the tourney for five of the six years he’s been head coach, expects a wide-open tourney.
Green Mountain has qualified for three straight NAIA tournaments, while New Jersey Institute of Technology has a dual NAIA-NCAA Division II affiliation. UM-Machias is expected to emerge as a Maine Athletic Conference tourney contender.
Caruso said the Braves are looking to improve over the weekend.
“We’re off to a good start, but I don’t think any of us can be pleased with where we are at this point in time,” Caruso said.
“I think [we need to improve] execution at both ends of the floor. We keep using the word ‘solid.’ Solid play. This has been our theme here over the past 10 days.”