Polar Bears Eye Eighth Women's Basketball Title

Polar Bears Eye Eighth Women's Basketball Title

Trinity Reaches Semifinals for First Time in Tournament History

HADLEY, Mass. - Bowdoin College will look to add an eighth conference crown to its legacy this weekend when the Polar Bears host the final rounds of the 2009 NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship. Saturday’s semifinals will feature top-seeded Bowdoin taking on fifth-seeded Trinity while second seed and defending NESCAC champion Amherst will square off against third seed Tufts. The 2009 NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship wraps up on Sunday, March 1 with the final beginning at 1:00 p.m. Tickets for this weekend’s championship are $5 for adults and $2 for students. Fans unable to make it to Brunswick can follow all of the action live via the internet courtesy of Bowdoin College.

Bowdoin (21-4, 8-1 NESCAC) finished tied atop the NESCAC standings for first with Amherst, however the Polar Bears’ 63-61 buzzer-beater victory on Jan. 30 in Amherst, Mass. gave them the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Lord Jeffs for the number-one seed. The NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship has been synonymous with the Polar Bears over the years. Bowdoin posted an impressive 20-0 record while winning the first seven conference crowns before its remarkable run came to a halt last winter when Amherst became the first team to hand the Polar Bears a tournament loss with a 71-47 decision in the semifinals This season, the Polar Bears have reaffirmed their premier status within the NESCAC. Suffering only two losses since the start of the New Year, with only one occurring in conference competition, Bowdoin has put together another 20-win season as it heads into the weekend riding a seven-game unbeaten streak. Bowdoin punched its ticket to the semifinals for the ninth time in playoff history by rolling past Williams 85-52. The Polar Bears rank third among conference squads in scoring offense, averaging 70.4 points over 25 games, while the defense, the hallmark of Bowdoin’s previous championship runs, is second at an average of 53.8 points allowed per game. Scoring this season for Bowdoin has been a committee effort. Sophomore guard Katie Bergeron (Bradley, Maine) is one of only two Polar Bears in double-figures, averaging 10.7 points per game. Rookie guard Jill Henrikson (Bath, Maine) has performed admirably as of late. Since becoming a regular starter on Jan. 30, Henrikson has reached double-digits in every contest - all wins - and leads her team in scoring over the stretch, averaging 13.4 points per game. The pair look to keep the Polar Bears’ 28-0 postseason record at Morrell Gymnasium in tact this weekend.

Fifth-seeded Trinity (17-7, 4-5 NESCAC) reached the semifinals for the first time in tournament history by upending fourth-seeded Bates at home last Saturday, 76-71. The Bantams raced out of the gate this season, going 11-0 to post their best start since the 1996-97 campaign before faltering against Babson on Jan. 13, 54-45. After the setback to the Beavers, Trinity scratched out a 5-6 record but was still able to guarantee itself a playoff spot with a 75-70 win over Williams on the last day of the regular season. One of the six losses came against the Bantams’ semifinal opponent as they suffered a 62-44 loss to Bowdoin on Jan. 31 in Hartford, Conn. Statistically this season, Trinity averages 61.7 points per game, ninth among league teams, and has been holding opponents to 55.1 points per contest, good enough for fifth in the NESCAC. Leading the offense has been junior guard Claire Arnstein (Hicksville, N.Y.). Starting all 24 games, Arnstein averages a team-best 12.0 points per game while posting 2.17 steals per contest, a figure that ranks fifth among all players. Just behind Arnstein on the Bantam stat sheet is first year guard Michelle Royals (Torrington, Conn.), averaging 11.7 points per game. The duo hope to help Trinity record its first win over Bowdoin in championship play, as the Polar Bears hold a 3-0 all-time mark with the most recent meeting a 61-50 victory over the Bantams in the 2007 quarterfinals. Overall, Bowdoin has won the last 12 meetings with Trinity.

Although Amherst (24-1, 8-1 NESCAC) missed out on securing the number-one seed due to the Jan. 30 setback to Bowdoin - the only loss the Jeffs have suffered this season - the defending NESCAC Women’s Basketball Champions managed to finish the conference slate with a better record than they did during their title run a year ago (7-2). The Jeffs picked up right where they left off after last season’s impressive 27-3 showing, setting a program record for best start to a season and consecutive winning steak by taking their first 18 outings of the current campaign. After the loss to the Polar Bears, Amherst nearly faltered the next night but managed to edge an upset-minded Colby 65-64. The Jeffs would go on to win their next five contests, including a 77-36 victory over the Mules in the quarterfinals on Saturday. It may come as no surprise that Amherst’s dominance on the court has also translated into dominance on the stat sheet. The Jeffs are at or near the top of nearly every major statistical category in the conference, leading the league in scoring offense (72.2 points per game), scoring defense (48.7), average margin of victory (+23.5), field goal percent (.431), field goal percent defense (.326), steals (11.76), and rebounding margin (+10.0). A pair of sophomores have driven Amherst this winter, Jaci Daigneault (Guilford, Conn.) and Sarah Leyman (Cincinnati, Ohio). The tandem have combined to lead the Jeffs in scoring in 10 of their last 11 outings and are among the league's best in shooting percentage, as Daigneault is second with a .538 percentage and Leyman is third at .527. Daigneault leads her team with 12.0 points and 7.2 boards per game, having recorded seven double-doubles so far this season with five occurring in Amherst’s last six contests. Leyman is second only to her classmate in scoring for the Jeffs, averaging 10.7 points along with 6.0 rebounds per game.

Saturday’s late semifinal will be a rematch of the 2008 title tilt when Amherst faces third-seeded Tufts (21-3, 7-2 NESCAC) in what will be the second meeting between the two squads in tournament history. The Jumbos reached the conference championship last year for the second-straight time but were dealt a 59-53 loss and denied their first NESCAC title. The 2007-08 season was a record-setting one for Tufts as they won a program-best 26 games and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. This season, the Jumbos have lost only three games, all by six points or less. One of those three losses came at the hands of the Jeffs, 54-48 on Feb. 7 in Amherst, Mass. Tufts heads into the final rounds second only to Amherst in scoring offense, scoring on average 70.6 points per game, while the defense is fourth at 56.2 points allowed. The Jumbos have the top two scorers among this weekend’s championship field in the form of junior forward Julia Bailey (Farmington, Conn.) and sophomore guard Colleen Hart (Needham, Mass.). Bailey is sixth among all conference players in scoring and second in rebounds as she leads her team with 13.4 points and 8.0 boards per game. Hart, the 2008 NESCAC Rookie of the Year, ranks 10th in the NESCAC in scoring, averaging 12.1 points, and is fourth in assists with 4.54 per game.

Quarterfinals - Saturday, Feb. 21 at Higher Seeds

at No. 1 Bowdoin 85, No. 8 Williams 52
at No. 2 Amherst 77, No. 7 Colby 36
at No. 3 Tufts 71, No. 6 Wesleyan 57
No. 5 Trinity 76, at No. 4 Bates 71

Semifinals - Saturday, February 28 at Bowdoin
No. 5 Trinity at No. 1 Bowdoin - 2:00 p.m.
No. 3 Tufts at No. 2 Amherst - 4:00 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, March 1
Semifinal winners - 1:00 p.m.