Hayley Peterson, of Bethel, center, holds the National Championship trophy she and her teammates from Central Maine Community College basketball team recently won. She and teammates Holly Decourcey, left, Ellie Harrington, right, and the rest of the players and coaches, were honored for winning the championship during a ceremony at the CMCC gym Thursday afternoon.
AUBURN — Nearly three weeks couldn’t dull the shine of the championship trophy the Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team won the first weekend of March.
The Mustangs finally got a chance to celebrate their USCAA Division II National Championship on campus Thursday at Kirk Hall, in front of family, friends, classmates and community members.
CMCC capped off a 33-1 season with a 74-57 victory over Penn State Lehigh Valley, capturing the first national championship in the program’s history, and the first for any women’s college basketball team in Maine.
“This is one of our goals from day one, when we first came to the program six years ago,” coach Andrew Morong said. “And now that it’s finally happening, we couldn’t have done it with a better group of young women. They really are an amazing group, and I’m just very proud of what they did, on and off the court.”
The campus celebration included Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, who read a proclamation of March 23, 2017 being “Day of the Mustangs” in the city.
“It’s amazing. I love Auburn,” said sophomore Brooke Reynolds, an Edward Little High School graduate and the MVP of the national tournament. “I’m glad it was here, and I’m glad it was with CM, and I wouldn’t want to have won it with anyone else.”
LaBonte told the team that “this community is extremely proud of your accomplishments,” and he recounted how he and CMCC Athletic Director Dave Gonyea worked phones all night after the team won its title to make sure they received a police escort from the state line all the way to Kirk Hall on campus.
Dean of Students Nick Hamel told the players that they “should be proud of (their) accomplishments on and off the court.”
Morong said it was the off-the-court work as much as the on-court play and preparation that led to the title.
“I think it was just a relentless pursuit of being great, on and off the court. Whether it was in the classroom or on the basketball court, they just were determined, especially our returners, who got knocked out of the conference tournament a little bit earlier than they wanted to last year,” Morong said. “They had this just relentless pursuit of excellence, and they would just refuse to lose. It says a lot about their character.”
The Mustangs had a team GPA of 3.2 during the fall semester, and Morong said 10 of the 16 players on the roster are slated to be named to the Yankee Conference All-Academic Team, which would be a program record.
On the court, the team went through what Morong called “five-and-a-half grueling months of practicing, conditioning, lifting.” The Mustangs opened the season on a 15-game winning streak, then was dealt “one ugly loss” before ending the season with 18 straight wins.
CMCC President Dr. Scott Knapp said the final victory made him the happiest. Knapp used to work at Lehigh Carbon Community College in Pennsylvania, whose rival was Penn State Lehigh Valley during his time at LCCC.
Hamel was also happy to see the CM women capture a national title. Hamel was on the CM men’s team that accomplished the same feat in 2002, and he said he was honored to have the women’s team join his men’s team as national champions.
“It’s amazing,” Reynolds said. “I never won a state championship, and I never would have dreamed of winning a national championship. It’s something that it’s like once in a lifetime and I’m so happy to be part of the team.”
Reynolds is one of 12 Maine natives on the team on the national-title winning team — a figure that Morong said can’t be overlooked, even if Reynolds said Maine players usually are.
“Maine kids are blue-collar kids. They like rolling up their sleeves and going to work, they like working hard, and as a coach what really more can you ask for?” Morong said.
Other Mainers on the team are: Auburn natives Tianna Harriman and Eraleena Gethers-Hairston, Lewiston’s Kristina Blais, Rangeley’s Seve Deery-Deraps and Taylor Esty, Fayette’s Nicole Hamblin, Lisbon’s Mikayla Yanez, Bethel’s Hayley Peterson, Livermore’s Rylee Moore, Naples’ Spencer True and Jefferson’s Samantha Burke. Jenny Schlim, who was named to the All-Tournament Team and was a USCAA Division II All-American honorable mention, is from Nottingham, New Hampshire.
They all represented a small college in Auburn on a national level this season.
“This college is so good to us. They spoil us, that’s why we work as hard as we do in the classroom and on the court because we like to earn everything we get,” Morong said. “They take such great care of us, from the top down, President Knapp all the way down through our faculty. It’s a proud moment for all of us.”
Former Edward Little basketball standout Brooke Reynolds, a sophomore at Central Maine Community College, holds the national championship trophy she helped win in the Auburn college’s gym where she and the rest of the players and coaches, were honored for winning the championship during a ceremony at the CMCC gym Thursday afternoon.