LEWISTON — The timing was right, and so was the opportunity.

When Alison Montgomery saw the women’s basketball job at Bates College was open, it felt like a logical next step. She was interested in a head coaching job, and had a desire to return to Maine.

“I knew I wanted to be at the Division III level,” Montgomery said. “I was really ready and excited to be a head coach. There’s obvious draws to this job. The NESCAC is a great conference. I have a lot of loyalties to it because I played in it and I coached in it. I’m familiar with it, and I also believe in the model.”

Montgomery has been coaching at the U.S. Naval Academy with her former Bowdoin College head coach, Stefanie Pemper. Bates hired Montgomery in June. She moved to Maine in July. And she had a baby in late August.

“There’s been so many wonderful things happening,” Montgomery said. “It’s been a whirlwind, but just awesome. The community at Bates is incredible. So many coaches in the department, I feel like I’ve known them my whole life, and I’ve been here for just a couple of months. That’s so refreshing. So it’s proven to be as good as I hoped it would be.”

Montgomery grew up in Bangor and is just one of three players to score 1,000 points playing for the Rams. She then played at Bowdoin and earned a psychology degree in 2005. The Polar Bears won four NESCAC championships and went 108-9 during her four seasons, earning four NCAA tourney appearances and finishing as the national runner-up in 2004.

She then served as an assistant coach at Bowdoin for seven seasons before taking the job with the Naval Academy. She was an assistant there for four years, working as the recruiting coordinator. She was in charge of scouting, game planning and team preparation.

After 11 seasons as an assistant, the draw of being a head coach was strong. This career move to Bates felt like the right opportunity. Stepping into the head job is a new challenge, but one Montgomery wanted to experience.

“There has to be a learning curve there where there’s something you don’t know until you get there and you’re in that position,” Montgomery said. “So I’m not going to sit here and say that I know everything there is to know. But there’s a confidence and a readiness to give it a shot. I think there was a time where I knew I wasn’t quite ready as opposed to knowing I was ready. I’m just ready to kind of dive in and put my own stamp on it.”

She does so in the shadow of longtime coach Jim Murphy, who retired after 21 years and 343 wins at the end of last season. He earned six NCAA tournament berths. Montgomery said she’s humble to follow his decades of great coaching and excited to be able to learn from a legend that she played and coached against.

“It’s just so cool for it to come full circle,” said Montgomery who also earned a masters degree in social work at Boston College in 2007. “When I played at Bowdoin, we played Bates and in my four years we played them in the championship three years in a row. I have so many great memories of those battles with Bates. I always respected the program and always greatly respected Coach Murphy and the way he led the program — super classy, gritty and always really humble. So I have a lot of really nice memories of playing against him.”

Montgomery has a younger squad with which to build. Juniors Allie Coppola, Bernadette Connors and Chelsea Nason were all key components last season, especially after senior Molly Brown was lost to an injury late in the season. The Bobcats, who finished 10-14 last year, will face a tough schedule, especially with three NESCAC teams ranked nationally. Amherst is ranked second while Tufts is third and Bowdoin seventh in the D3hoops rankings. 

“It’s one thing to look at our team and where we are and then put it in the context of where our competition is,” Montgomery said. “We’re definitely in the stage of trying to build some chemistry. I really like the team so far. I have a ton of confidence in the caliber of kids that I’m working with here. Their intelligence, their commitment, they’re really good kids who I think have hearts in the right place.”

Montgomery said one thing she brings to the program is a new energy. She’s excited about bringing that to the team and reaching the potential this group has.

“I bring that energy in both in my enthusiasm and in having high expectations,” Montgomery said. “I want to get them to believe as strongly as I do in what they’re capable of. I’m trying to have really high expectations and hold them to a pretty high standard and have them hold each other to a high standard.”

Bates opens the season November 20 at UMaine-Farmington, and follows that with road games at the University of New England and the University of Southern Maine.

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