AUBURN — A year ago an appearance in the USCAA Division II National Championship was a bit of a humbling experience for the Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team.

The Mustangs hope it ultimately proves to be a learning experience as well.

CMCC was the top-seed last season and that earned them a game with the host team from Penn State Fayette. That led to an early exit for the Mustangs. Now as the No. 1 seed once again, CMCC is hoping last year’s experience serves them well this time.

“Our goal is not necessarily to win a national championship,” CMCC coach Andrew Morong said. “Our goal is to win our first round game. Then it’s wherever the ball takes us from there. It’s one step at a time. We’re solely focused on Warren Wilson.”

The Mustangs (26-2) play Warren Wilson College, of Ashville, North Carolina at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Another local squad, the seventh-seeded University of Maine-Augusta, plays second-ranked Cincinatti-Clermont at 4 p.m.

“We think it’s a good matchup,” Morong said of the Lady Owls. “It going to be a great game. They’re pretty scrappy. They’re athletic. They have decent size. It looks like they matchup up with us pretty well. It’s a national tournament and everyone’s a great team.”

While the Lady Owls (16-10) are in their first-ever national tourney, the field also includes the defending champions from the Albany College of Pharmacy and the runners-up from Berkeley College of New York. The host team from Penn State Fayette is also in the field.

The Mustangs only have three starters that were on the club last year, including Susie French, Maggie McConkey and Laura Soohey. Jamie Swart has been with the team the previous two years when the Mustangs were in the nationals.

“She brings a lot of experience,” Morong said of Swart. “She has a lot of knowledge. Her experience is very helpful. She knows what it takes to succeed down there. I’m interested in see her step up and take a leadership role down there.”

McConkey says the team learned last year that the seedings mean very little and coming in with confidence means a lot. She sees a big difference in the team entering the tourney compared to last year.

“I feel a lot more confident,” McConkey said. “Personally, I know how things went last year and what adjustments we can make as a team and as individuals. I’m way more confident this year. I was a freshman last year and I had the jitters and everything. This year I think even the freshmen are more prepared than the freshmen were last year.”

Gabby Foy is one of those newcomers. She’s taking it all in and learning from her teammates that have been there before.

“It’s really exciting,” said Foy, who was recognized as a second team USCAA All-American. “I never won a championship in high school. On this team you’re expected to win. It a really cool feeling that you have the whole team and coaching staff behind you.”

Between the lengthy road trip, banquet and awards ceremony and the aura of a national championship tournament, it already is a new experience for the new players. Along with Foy, Soohey was named a USCAA honorable mention at the banquet earlier this week. French, who was a repeat first team USCAA selection, also earned all-academic honors as did McConkey and Soohey.

“Coach has really amped up practice this week and is getting us mentally prepared for it,” Foy said. “Having Susie and Laura, who went last year, they said that it’s a really fun experience but nothing you’ve ever done before.”

With so many new players, McConkey says the makeup of the team is somewhat similar to last year’s team that featured a sizable group of freshmen.

“If we prepared ourselves mentally, things will be fine,” McConkey said. “I think last year we weren’t as prepared as we should have been.”

The team has been practicing against the men’s squad on occasion and that has given them a pretty good taste of  high-caliber talent.

“They’re bigger, fast and strong than us,” McConkey said. “That’s how all the teams are going to be down there. Even if they’re not, we can be the bigger, faster and stronger team.”

Morong says that since last year’s loss in the tourney the team has been working and preparing for this moment, hoping for this opportunity. They secured the YSCC title they coveted. Now they see how they measure up in Uniontown. If the Mustangs win Thurday, they’ll play Friday at 5 p.m.

“We don’t have a ton of experience from last year’s team but we are battle tested now,” Morong said. “We’ve played over 30 games together. Our freshmen are not freshmen anymore. They haven’t been freshmen for quite a while. They’re hungry. They’re a very passionate group, and I expect to see a ton of energy.”

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