Perfect is the enemy of good. Or, in the case of Bowdoin women’s basketball, of exceptional.
It’s difficult to look back on a 31-2 season and feel somehow disappointed. But it’s not impossible. In a sense, we, the fans, are spoiled. This past season unfolded in mesmerizing and exhilarating fashion for our pleasure but not really for our benefit. Like Pavlov’s dog, we heard the final buzzer and looked around, expecting a celebration.
It’s not a totally unwarranted reaction after a season so chock-full of electrifying stimuli. Some brief highlights: January 19, Abby Kelly ’19 becomes the fifteenth player in program history to reach one thousand points; January 26, the Morrell-shaking, come-from-behind, revenge-is-so-sweet victory over Amherst; February 1, the fourth-quarter-stunner against Middlebury; March 2, Senior Taylor Choate’s record-tying, Wonder Woman-esque 38-point effort against Smith in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
But that’s not all. We also saw: the first number-one ranking since 2007; the first undefeated regular season since 2003; the first back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Final Four and championship game in program history; junior Maddie Hasson’s arrival as one of the best forwards in the league, maybe in the entire division; Kelly’s establishment of herself as one of the best players in program history and the emergence of the Bowdoin-Amherst rivalry as one of the best and fiercest in Division III hoops.
We were spoiled, but the team was deserving. For us, the team’s 67-81 loss to Thomas More in the championship game of the NCAA tournament—the second such loss in two years—was a disappointment, a heartbreak. For the team, it was, in Coach Adrienne Shibles’s words, “complete devastation.”
An autopsy of the Polar Bears’ performance in the championship game reveals a number of wounds, some self-inflicted, but many typical of playing a team as talented, and as tall, as Thomas More.
Bowdoin was out-rebounded 39-31 and trailed 12-21 in second-chance points while managing to eke out a two-point advantage in the paint. The real killers, though, were points off of turnovers and three-point shooting. Although Bowdoin actually forced one more turnover than it surrendered, 19 to Thomas More’s 18, the team failed to capitalize on this slim advantage, getting outscored on points off turnovers 31-14. On top of that, the team shot dismally from deep, hitting only seven of twenty-seven from beyond the arc. Faced with Thomas More’s size and athleticism, the Polar Bears dug themselves a hole too deep to escape from.
The end of a season allows for a moment of pause, an opportunity to look both back at what has unfolded and forward to what is to come.
But how to begin evaluating this past season in some comprehensive way? By almost every metric, both intrinsic and extrinsic, Bowdoin women’s basketball is the best it has ever been, and this season was among the best in program history.
By the trophy-shaped-yardstick that the team uses to measure it’s progress, though, even this season falls short.
“Two of our main goals this season were win a NESCAC championship and national championship, and we knew we could get back to both of those points,” said captain Hannah Graham ’19. “Falling short on both does leave a sour taste in all of our mouths.”
If there’s a silver lining, leave it to Shibles to find it.
“You don’t get better unless you’re exposed in some ways,” said Shibles, reflecting on the game a week later. And if this most recent pair of defeats exposed anything, it was that maybe it’s possible to want something too much.
“?n the couple of moments that we failed with regard to the outcomes, I would say that it came from a really good place of holding on too tightly, of wanting it so bad that we held on tightly and that took us out of our rhythm of what we do, of how we play basketball,” said Shibles.
But the lining is thin and offers only minimal cushioning.
“I can’t even utter the words ‘I wouldn’t trade it.’ Of course I’d trade it. Of course I’d trade it for a championship,” she said.
So where to go from here?
Player turnover is a fact of life in collegiate hoops, and adapting to a constantly changing squad, said Shibles, is one of the great challenges, but also one of the great rewards, of coaching at the college level.
But this year, adapting to the turnover will prove even more challenging than usual. After the 2017-18 championship run, Bowdoin graduated 24.6 average points per game, or 30.8 percent of its average scoring power. After this season, it will graduate 40.2 average points per game, or 47.9 percent of its average scoring power. Not to mention the defensive losses, which include a NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year. The margin is not insignificant.
Next year’s team will be built around the pillars of Hasson and Sam Roy ’20, whose respective 14.6 and 9.3 average points per game constituted 28% of the team’s average scoring. The rest of the rotation will be fleshed out by the promising younger ranks—notably Sela Kay ’22, Moira Train ’21 and Annie Boasberg ’22, all of whom saw valuable minutes this past season—and augmented by five incoming first-years.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, let us, the fans, give thanks. For the thrills. For a Golden Era of Bowdoin women’s basketball. For a reason to feel proud of our school and of our community. For the knowledge that, in not too long, the whole thing will start all over again.