Individual athletes and accomplishments usually dominate the fine print in this weekly space, but it’s impossible to let what the University of Southern Maine women’s basketball team accomplished Tuesday night settle for second billing.

With its convincing 78-55 road victory at Plymouth State, USM won its 17th straight game and improved to 20-1. That extended the Huskies’ NCAA Division III record streak of 20-win seasons to 27 years. Southern Maine has hit the victory milestone every season since 1980-81.

The only team in women’s hoop history to set a higher benchmark is the legendary Division I program at the University of Tennessee. The Volunteers initiated their ongoing streak of 20-win campaigns in 1976-77. It’s at 31 years and counting.

USM also owns an amazing 73-game winning streak in the Little East Conference, having sustained its most recent loss in January 2003.

There’s a good chance at least one of the streaks would have ended this winter without All-American Ashley Marble. The 5-foot-9 senior from Topsfield is a leading candidate for NCAA Division III Player of the Year.

Marble locked up national Player of the Month honors in January with a four-week period in which she averaged 24.4 points and 13.4 rebounds per game, closely mirroring her season numbers of 22.2 points and 11.7 boards. She recently became the first woman in USM history to notch 1,000 of each in her career.

“Ashley has successfully taken on the challenge of leading a very young team on the court,” Southern Maine coach Gary Fifield said in a statement released by the school. “She has really stepped up her play in all areas of her game and has been a driving force behind our success this season.”

Two local players continue to share the spotlight for the Huskies, who are hoping for their third consecutive trip to the Division III final four next month in Springfield, Mass.

Dawn Ross of Gray has appeared in all 21 games for USM, starting seven in the backcourt. Her 16 3-pointers are tied for second on the team. Ross is averaging 4.9 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2 assists per game while connecting on 77.4 percent of her trips to the free-throw line.

Rumford’s Kristen Arsenault (Mountain Valley) has made 15 appearances in her first season at Southern Maine.

On the plus side

The University of Maine women’s basketball team hurdled the .500 mark and climbed to 11-10 with a 71-63 victory in a rare Wednesday matinee at Alfond Arena. Gray-New Gloucester graduate Katie Whittier continues to be a central figure in the Black Bears’ resurgence.

Whittier, a 6-foot-2 forward, has started every game for Maine. Her presence was even more crucial when standout classmate Bracey Barker was out of the lineup with a broken wrist for most of December. Twice, Whittier was the team’s leading scorer during that span.

She has led the Black Bears in rebounding in nine games this winter, most recently in Saturday’s 65-55 loss to the University of New Hampshire. Whittier leads Maine in field goal percentage (52.9), stands second in free-throw proficiency (89.7) and rebounds per game (5.7) and is third in scoring average (9.2).

The Maine men also are hovering around the middle of the America East pack. In a trend that should build regional interest for a program that has long played second fiddle to the women, the Black Bears are well on their way to having a roster dominated by in-state talent.

Including walk-ons and redshirting junior Jason Hight of Westbrook (Bridgton Academy), eight of the 15 players on Maine’s active roster either grew up in the Pine Tree State or played their high school hoop here. Seeing the most notable action this year is Hyde School product Junior Bernal, who has started every game as a freshman and ranks among the team leaders in scoring (10.4 per game), rebounding (3.9), assists (3.0) and steals (39 total).

Freshman Mark Socoby of Houlton (7.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and junior Brian Andre of Bingham (3.7, 3.3) also are part of Maine’s regular rotation. Of course, two of Maine’s top incoming 2007-08 recruits are familiar to area basketball enthusiasts: Troy Barnies of Auburn (Edward Little) and Gardiner’s Sean McNally.

Tops on the track

Following up last week’s update on Matt Capone of Auburn, the Bates College senior won two events and received the Jim Westcott Most Valuable Track Athlete award in the State of Maine Indoor Championship last Saturday. Capone captured the 55 and 200 meters and ran a leg for the winning 4×400 relay team on his home track.

Bates junior Noah Gauthier earned Peter Goodrich Most Valuable Field Athlete laurels for the second straight year, capturing state titles in the shot put and 35-pound weight throw. Bates finished second behind Bowdoin in the team competition.

One night earlier, Bates’ women placed third in the state meet. Cassandra Kirkland of Greene (Leavitt) finished third in the weight throw, and her distance registered eighth-best in Bates history. Jenna Ligor of Denmark (Fryeburg Academy) also shared the win in the 4×400 relay.

Three local athletes picked up points for the University of Maine in a dual meet with Holy Cross last weekend. Allyson Thomas of Auburn (Edward Little) placed second in the women’s pole vault, while teammate Tess Perry of Farmington (Mt. Blue) was second in the triple jump. On the men’s side, Dylan Cayer of Mexico (Mountain Valley) claimed third to cap Maine’s 1-2-3 sweep in the men’s 200.


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