Even though both its basketball teams lost their single-elimination NESCAC playoff games in the past ten days, Bowdoin’s seasons aren’t over just yet. Both the men’s and women’s teams earned at-large bids today to play NCAA D-III Tournament games this Friday for the chance to eventually compete in the national championship. This will mark the men’s fourth trip to the D-III Championship after also having qualified in 1996, 1999 and 2008, and marks the women’s 14th year moving on, one year after missing the tournament for the first time in 13 seasons. The women’s berth was not altogether unexpected, but the prospects for the men’s bid had not been as strong.
The Bowdoin women will play Castleton State College at home on Friday, with the winner moving on to play Saturday against the winner of the Roger Williams-Plattsburgh State game. Bowdoin is the top seed of these four teams and is ranked No. 23 in the nation.
“Last year they showed great growth given that they were such a young team, but it just means the world to be back in the tournament,” said Head Coach Adrienne Shibles. “We’re all beyond thrilled to have another chance, and even more excited that it’s at home.”
The men will play Richard Stockton College in a first round game in Pennsylvania on Friday, with the winner advancing to the round of 32 the following day to take on the victor of the Cabrini College-Bridgewater State game. Cabrini, the regional host, was fourth in the country with an average of 90.4 points per game.
Neither Bowdoin team has played its tournament opponent this year, so the coming days will involve not only intensive practices but video analysis to better understand their styles of play.
Bowdoin women’s program is no stranger to the national tournament, though only six members of the current team have played in it. The Polar Bears have made it to the Sweet Sixteen ten times, advancing to the Elite Eight in half of those years and to the title game in 2004.
The Castleton State Spartans (25-3) will be making their second D-III tournament appearance in three years. They have won 15 of their past 16 games, and are fresh off a North Atlantic Conference Championship victory this weekend. Statistically, the team has been led by guard Alyssa Leonard (13.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.4 apg), guard Jade Desroches (12.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.3 spg), and forward Meghan O’Sullivan (11.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg).
The Polar Bears made it to the NESCAC semifinals this past weekend, only to suffer a heartbreaking 45-42 loss to Amherst two days ago thanks to a blocked 3-pointer.
“I still think we have some things to work on with transition defense, boxing out and closing out on defense, but I was pretty happy with our defensive effort [against Amherst],” Shibles said. “Offensively, we were just showing a lack of composure on the offensive end—I felt like we were rushing it a lot. We’ll be working a lot this week on offensive execution and shooting and finishing.”
This season, Bowdoin was led by Shannon Brady ’16 (13.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Sara Binkhorst ’15 (13.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.5 assists per game), with Megan Phelps ’15 (9.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Kirsten Prue ’14 (6.4 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.3 rpg) also contributing significantly to the offense.
After finishing fourth in the NESCAC standings this season, Bowdoin (19-5) played Trinity in a quarterfinal matchup at home on February 22. The game was a hard-fought, triple-overtime battle—the longest game in NESCAC tournament history—that ultimately slipped away from Bowdoin in the final minute.
Bowdoin center John Swords ’15 has averaged nearly a double-double this year (14.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg), and guard Andrew Madlinger ’14 and forward Keegan Pieri ’15 are both averaging at least 11 points and 4 rebounds. The offense has been otherwise balanced with ten players averaging more than ten minutes a game. The Polar Bears have been bolstered in recent weeks by the return of guard Bryan Hurley ’15, who ruptured his ACL before the start of the season and had been the focal point of the offense earlier in his Bowdoin career.
The No. 25 Stockton Ospreys (23-4), coming off of eight straight wins and having just won the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship, will be playing in their 14th overall D-III tournament but first since 2010. Stockton this season has been led by forward Josh Blamon (16.9 points per game), forward Nnamdi Usuwa (11.1 ppg, 7.3 rebounds per game), and guard Rameel Johnson (9.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.96 steals per game).
For the upcoming matchup, the two head coaches have nearly 60 years of experience between them. Stockton’s Gerry Matthews is in his 28th year at the helm and Bowdoin’s Tim Gilbride is in his 29th. Gilbride was not available for comment by press time.