Editor’s note 05/02/2021 at 10:28 a.m.: A previous version of this article stated that the NESCAC formed in 1999. This article has been updated to reflect the fact that this was when Bowdoin joined the NESCAC, not when the NESCAC formed.
After Bowdoin joined the NESCAC in 1999, athletics saw huge success throughout the first decade of the 21st century. Women’s teams, in particular, led the way, even becoming some of the first Bowdoin teams to reach national championships.
“The 1999-2000 academic year was the NESCAC’s first year as a real playing conference,” said Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Jim Caton in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Pretty immediately after that, Bowdoin began seeing a large amount of success.”
In 2002, the women’s ice hockey team became the first Bowdoin team to go to the national final four in their sport. Just two years later, the women’s basketball team would become the first Bowdoin program to play for a national championship. The women’s field hockey team finally brought home Bowdoin’s first national championship title in 2007.
After a 30-0 undefeated season, the 2004 women’s basketball team garnered particularly notable attention from fans in town and around the College.
“We had a sense that the success we were having was increasing the draw to [Bowdoin] athletics, as our games started to become pretty full. In the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds, they overbooked the gym. For most games, I want to say we had at least 1000 people,” Courtney Trotta ’04, a former women’s basketball player, said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Although the women’s basketball team took their first and most brutal loss of the season at the infamous 2004 championship game, the buzz they created around Bowdoin athletics, both on campus and in the Brunswick community, was tangible for years to come, especially among young women.
“We used to joke that it was cool seeing our team draw [more spectators than] the men’s team,” Trotta said. “I think that it is a reflection of Bowdoin and a reflection of the Brunswick community; there were so many young girls that would come to our camps, and they would even come up and ask for autographs after our games.”
Athletes started to get recognized by the wider Brunswick community downtown while they were out getting breakfast at Mister Bagel on Pleasant Street or dessert at Gelato Fiasco on Maine Street.
The ramifications of the 2004 women’s basketball team’s success extended beyond their own courts.
“We saw [our success] bleed into different seasons and sports, especially because we had some two-sport athletes on our team,” said Trotta. “I think it also helped recruiting for other sports, and it helped get Bowdoin’s name out there.”
Not only did the 2000s see the success of established teams on campus, but the decade also brought the expansion of some newer programs. Women’s rugby was promoted to a full-fledged varsity sport in 2003, the first in the country.
Still, the decade was not without its hardships. An economic downturn forced the college to remove alpine skiing as a varsity sport around the same time women’s rugby was added. Some groups, such as the football and volleyball teams, struggled to find their footing earlier on in the decade. However, as these teams became more comfortable within the NESCAC, they too became more competitive.
As Caton explained: “Everybody had their taste of success during the decade.”
When asked about the future of Bowdoin athletics, Alumni athletes stressed the importance of adequate funding and creating a healthy balance between academics and athletics are key to ensuring the success of any athletic program.
“We need to create a strong experience for the student-athletes while also not giving up on the important academic side,” Ben Brewster ’14 said. “Adequately fund[ing] athletic programs while provid[ing] rigorous academic programs will result in a balanced experience for student-athletes and protect the future of collegiate athletics.”