The Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team is heading back to the USCAA DII National Tournament to defend their 2017 title. This year, however, head coach Andrew Morong is dealing with more unpredictability.

That seems odd to say when you’re talking about a team that is 28-1 a year after winning the national title, but Morong can’t put his finger on what makes this year’s team tick.

“I think that we are bigger, faster, taller and quicker… Pretty much add an ‘er’ to all adjectives,” Morong said. “This year’s team has a different mental makeup, I don’t know if it’s better or worse, just different. They can seem super focused and then play with no discipline, not focused and play with a lot of discipline.”

The Mustangs went 33-1 last season, defeating Penn State Lehigh Valley in the DII championship game. This year’s team erased that game from their minds a long time ago.

“We are spending zero time talking about last year. We are not looking to repeat/defending anything just being on attack all year,” Morong said “If you are trying to defend something, you play not to lose and if you play not to lose then you end up losing.”

The focus has been on this season and for good reason. CM has returned many of its players from its championship run, yet four of its first seven rotation players are freshmen, including Jordyn Reynolds. Reynolds, sister of Brooke who was a huge piece of the 2017 title team, is making a name for herself on the team by average 11.7 points and a team-high 8.9 boards a game.

“It feels great to make the tournament,” Reynolds said. “It’s my first year so it’s my first time to Nationals so it’s a wonderful feeling and an awesome experience. I’d say everyone on the team works hard and plays their role and when we step on the court, whether it’s practice or a game, we do our job to the best of or abilities and go hard every second we are out there.”

To Morong, the 28-1 record the Mustangs hold is not indicative of the season they’ve had on the court.

“Good teams become great ones when the coach can hand over the keys to the players,” Morong said. “That hasn’t happened yet but I’m counting on everyone having a stake, whether they are a captain, all-american or a three-minute a game player… They’re hard to read. Extremely talented but you never know what you are going to get and that is exciting and frustrating at the same time.”

Reynolds can see where her coach is coming from.

“We are a team capable of a lot,” Reynolds said. “We are known for playing really well towards the end and we are capable of playing really well for the full 40 minutes and I guess all I can say about that is our best basketball is still yet to come.”

While the team may be inconsistent on occasion, when the game is coming to a close, that’s when the Mustangs play their best.

“Doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says,” Morong said. “Down by five with two minutes left or down 17 with a quarter remaining, they look around and nod their head and say ‘time to take care of business,’ and this team works really well.”

Morong is tough on his team, but it’s for a reason. He knows how good this team is and can be. The Reynolds sisters anchor the front court, while Kristina Blais leads the frontcourt and the team in assists with 4.5 a game.

The stalwart of the team, however, is their defense. The stat that jumps out the most is the Mustang’s 21.7 steals per game, the top amount in the country.

“Most of the offense comes from defense creating pressure in the full court and trapping in the half court,” Morong said. “We are lucky we have dynamic post players that can press and get up and down the court and change defenses on the fly.”

CM will have to rely on what it does best when it makes the 12-hour bus ride down to Pennsylvania for the tournament. Penn State Fayette, the Mustang’s first round opponent, is playing on its home court, and Morong knows that poses a tough challenge for the visitor, even at 3-19.

“I don’t care what their record is, they get to sleep in their own beds and we have a 12-hour bus ride and then hotels,” Morong said. “We are trying to make sure we are focused on us and respecting our opponents, focused on our best basketball on thursday and we will worry about the next game that next morning.”

The Mustangs have proven that when they play as a team then good things happen. Proof of that is their 22 assists per game which lead the nation. That teamwork comes from growing experience on the court, but also time spent off the court together.

“Most people would probably say winning the championship is the best part of the season but for me is being a part of a family,” Reynolds said. “We have been through it all, but we are all a great group of girls that I consider all my friends.”

The family atmosphere has been forged all season, whether it be on the court or at Morong’s house for get togethers.

“The stuff we do off the court is we play charades at my house sometimes, team dinners,” Morong said. “It’s old-school and they’re pretty competitive. It’s cool to see them off the court doing something that has nothing to do with basketball that they’re going to remember 10-15 years from now and not a random win on the basketball court.”

Central Maine Community College’s Jordyn Reynolds and the Mustangs will try to defend their USCAA national championship this week.

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