Story posted January 12, 2007
The Bowdoin women's basketball team has taken to saying: You just have to "get that ball."
It’s a mantra that has worked. With a 17-1 run so far, the Bowdoin women are amid another stellar season and ranked number one in the D3Hoops.com National Poll.
Since the New England Small College Athletic Conference established a women's basketball postseason tournament in 2001, only one team has claimed the title: Bowdoin. The Polar Bears have won six straight conference crowns and are 35-1 in regular season conference play since the 2002-03 campaign.
The Polar Bears are the only team in the country to make five consecutive NCAA Elite 8 appearances and six consecutive Sweet 16s.
With 76 consecutive home victories, Bowdoin holds the New England basketball record.
Senior captain Katie Cummings has been the starting point guard three years running. "Obviously, there is some pressure with the success that this program has had over the years," says Cummings. "I just try to be mentally prepared for every game."
"We have targets on our back every year," says head coach Stefanie Pemper. "We just try to be our best at the things we can control." Those include jock things like intensity, focus, and energy level, as well as life things like sleep, eating and schoolwork.
With the recent win over the University of Maine-Farmington, Pemper is 200-37 in her ninth season at Bowdoin. Pemper says she adjusts her coaching style every fall to gel with the team’s chemistry. Her first year on the job, Pemper handed out index cards and told her new players to write down why they were here. Only one wrote about a love of basketball; the others all said they loved being part of a team.
The players this season have that same relationship-based motivation, which is different, Pemper says, than what one would expect from a Division I team or even other Division III teams.
"As a team, our priorities are: family and faith – number one. Number two: academics; three: basketball; and four: social life." Pemper acknowledges that many people would be perplexed by that ranking. "They wouldn’t fit in here," she says.
But what makes the team so good? Women’s high school basketball programs across Maine are solid, and that strong environment has translated into powerhouse benches for Maine’s colleges and universities.
Last year, Bowdoin, Bates, and the University of Southern Maine were all nationally ranked. Had they not eliminated each other, there could have been three Maine teams in the final four.
Bowdoin fell to Southern Maine in the regional final of the NCAA Tournament last spring, dropping a heartbreaker on the road, 56-53. Of the ten combined players in the starting lineups, seven hailed from the State of Maine.
Pemper notes that if you look at the all-time best players at Bowdoin, a lot of them are Maine women. “If you’re a basketball player, and you’re good – you’re somebody. There’s a lot of self-esteem wrapped up in that.” And when you’ve come as far as the Bowdoin women have again this year, the stakes are high.
Coach Pemper says she tries to impart Zen-like wisdom, telling her players to keep a beginner’s mind – that is, to approach opponents without preconceived notions of how those teams rate against themselves.
Cummings says her teammates take every team seriously. "We all realize how much effort and focus it takes to win," she says.
Under Pemper’s watchful eye, the players drill, and they focus, and they control what they can, but sometimes, amid all that, they just have to "get that ball."
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