Bates College’s Melanie Binkhorst looks to the basket past Husson University’s Sami Ireland as she shoots the ball during the game at Bates College last weekend. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Nor rain, nor sleet, nor bomb cyclone …

The Bates College women’s basketball team held a practice Thursday morning, despite the weather that shut down a lot of the city. The Bobcats sandwiched New Year’s Day between a couple of games, and they need to get some practice time in before the all-important NESCAC season opens Friday at Bowdoin.

Besides, what better way to prepare for the Polar Bears of Bowdoin than to practice in whiteout conditions?

Head coach Alison Montgomery is pleased with where Bates (5-7) stands heading into its conference slate. She and the Bobcats entered this season wanting to alter the culture of the program into one that competes harder and is more competitive. Especially in the NESCAC, and Montgomery said the Bobcats appear to be trending in the right direction.

“This last stretch has been great for them in terms of their confidence and what they believe they can do,” Montgomery said. “The last couple years, you know, we’ve gotten some conference wins … they’ve had some tastes of success in the conference, and so I think that will propel them.”

Bates’ recent three-game win streak — and even the loss in its most recent game, against red-hot St. Joseph’s on Tuesday — are indicators of its progress since the start of the season.

“We’re feeling good in that we definitely feel like we’re continuing to improve and have been playing better basketball than were earlier in the season,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said the offense has been better in the wins, but the progression at the other end of the floor has made the most difference.

“I think our team has been a lot more focused and brought a lot more intensity on the defensive end, just taking more pride in that,” Montgomery said. “I mean, we’re forcing more turnovers and getting more steals — like substantially more than we have in the past two seasons. And some of that, I think, is a little bit personnel, but I think a lot of it has been a focus and a commitment to playing tougher defense.”

As expected, Nina Davenport is pacing the Bobcats’ offense this season. The senior from Freeport is averaging 20.3 points per game, and has exceeded 20 points in seven of Bates’ 12 games.

Montgomery said before the season that Davenport needed to be more consistent this year, and so far Davenport has followed through.

“She definitely, definitely is,” Montgomery said.

Davenport is averaging more than three 3-pointers made per game, and she leads the team in rebounding with 6.8 per game.

Helping Davenport carry the offensive load are sophomores Melanie Binkhorst (9.8 ppg) and Carly Christofi (7.4).

The Bobcats recognize the difficulty they’ll face in the NESCAC — the conference of NCAA Division III’s top-ranked team, Amherst, and second-ranked team, Tufts, as well as the No. 7 Polar Bears — but after this weekend’s road games against Bowdoin and Colby, they’ll play the remainder of January’s NESCAC games at home.

The Bobcats are looking forward to conference play, and hope to be in the thick of the postseason race.

Men open at home

The Bates (7-5) men open the NESCAC season Friday at home (7 p.m., Alumni Gymnasium) against Bowdoin (10-2).

The Bobcats so far have been led by their sophomores: Jeff Spellman leads the team in scoring at 17.5 ppg, Tom Coyne is second at 14.5 ppg, and Nick Gilpin is averaging 7.7 points along with 5.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

Bates has lost its two most recent games by three points, one via buzzer-beater against Brandeis, and the other in overtime to St. Joseph’s.


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