Lucas Levesque went into this season optimistic about what his University of Maine-Fort Kent women’s basketball team might accomplish.
Yet with only one returning starter and eight freshmen in the fold, the Bengals’ coach also realized it might take a while.
UMFK had a steady regular season, then put it all together last weekend to win the Sunrise Conference championship at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.
Levesque was particularly impressed with the way his team adjusted to different playing styles in their tournament wins. The Bengals opened by using a deliberate, defense-oriented pace in beating the College of St. Joseph, then employed a more aggressive, fast-paced tempo in downing SUNY Canton.
“In the playoffs, we didn’t make the mental mistakes that we made earlier in the season,” Levesque said. “We became confident and hopefully a little smarter.”
The 18-10 Bengals, who await word on their opponent for the NAIA Division II national tournament in two weeks, have come a long way this season.
“I think a lot of it obviously was getting everybody on the same page and realizing what our strengths and weaknesses were,” Levesque said. “We knew we had a pretty solid freshman class and we knew we had depth.”
Sophomore forward Arcilla Jeffers poured in a career-high 40 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in Sunday’s title game.
“She was focused,” Levesque said of the 6-foot forward from St. Kitts. “She had some glimpses all season of being able to dominate, but this was the first time she was able to put it all together for 40 minutes.”
Jeffers, who averaged 12.9 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the field, was an all-conference first-team pick. She teams up with Ashley Ames of Dexter to give UMFK a formidable frontcourt duo. The 6-foot-5 center, a second-team all-star, averaged 14.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.8 blocked shots and shot 50 percent from the field.
Ames ranks second in the country in blocks.
“We make sure we have one of them on the floor at all times,” Levesque said. “If you double-[team] Arcilla, Ashley will kill you and if you double Ashley, Arcilla will kill you.”
UMFK balanced out the floor with a three-guard set led by four freshmen. Shir Fuchs, a native of Israel, was the top offensive performer in the backcourt, averaging 9.8 ppg.
Sharing the point guard responsibilities were Californians Alisa Licata (7.5 ppg) and Amber Garrison (5.2 ppg, 3.2 spg), who averaged 4.7 and 3.5 assists, respectively. The other regular was Leah Ribera, a high school teammate of Licata who joined the team for the second semester and provided 9.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
“We rotate three out of four at all times,” Levesque said. “Our guards grew up as the season went along and it showed [during the tournament].”
The challenge for the guard quartet was to remain patient on offensive and make sure Ames and Jeffers got frequent touches inside to help open things up on the perimeter.
UMFK ranks No. 2 in the country in field-goal percentage defense (.335) and fifth in scoring defense (54.1 ppg).
Other contributors include Geneice Bassue, Amanda Tracey of Buxton, Tara Waltz of Whitefield and Emily Burnett of Bristol. Cat Melton of Kenduskeag missed much of the season with an injury.
Levesque also praised the efforts of assistant coaches Dana Lemon and Jim Melton.
Snyder takes NEC honors
Winterport’s Lindsey Snyder was named the Northeast Conference Outstanding Swimmer for her performance in the NEC swimming and diving championships at Somerset, N.J.
Snyder, a senior at Central Connecticut State, won individual championships in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke events with record-setting times of 57.02 seconds and 2:01.43, respectively. She also took the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:07.04.
CCSU won the 2008 conference championship and Snyder was named first-team all-conference. She now moves on to the ECAC championships, which begin Feb. 29 in Pittsburgh.
3 Colby players award nominees
Colby College of Waterville has placed three players on the list of 16 semifinalists for the Joe Concannon Award.
Seniors Arthur Fritch, T.J. Kelley and Josh Reber are all under consideration for the honor, which is bestowed upon the best American-born college hockey player in New England playing at the Division II or III levels.
Fritch, an All-American last year, has eight goals and 16 assists this season and is the Mules’ top-scoring defensemen with 31 goals and 82 assists in his career.
Kelley leads the New England Small College Athletic Conference in scoring with 19 goals and 22 assists. He has nine power-play goals and three game-winners this season.
Reber ranks second in the league in scoring with nine goals and 23 assists. He ranks first in points per game (1.78) and has six power-play tallies.