Central Maine Community College coach Andrew Morong has made enough 11-hour bus trips to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association national tournament in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, to recognize some the landmarks along the way.

Morong and the Mustangs won their fourth straight Yankee Small College Conference (YSCC) title to secure their fourth consecutive trip to the tournament, and their second as the defending national champions.

However, CMCC (25-3) secured the tournament’s No. 2 seed in atypical fashion.

The Mustangs’ expectations for themselves didn’t change despite graduating three All-Americans and bringing in 11 new players, Morong said hours before he and his team boarded the chartered bus for Penn State-Fayette on Thursday night.

How they won did have to change, though.

For one thing, the Mustangs didn’t have a Susie French, Maggie Sabine or one of the Reynolds sisters, Brooke and Jordyn, as a cornerstone in the paint this season.


“The previous eight years that I’ve been here, we’ve always had at least one dominant low-post player,” said Morong, the YSCC coach of the year. “Coming into this year, we knew we had some size but not as much as we typically have had, and we didn’t have that dominant low-post player.”

Minus the post presence, Morong decided to turn the tempo up yet another notch. The Mustangs have always liked to play fast, but they needed more lead in their foot (and, Morong admitted, the coaching staff need to accept a few more turnovers as a result).

It helps that CMCC boasts a bevy of talented guards to control the tempo and ensure that it produces the desired results. Two juniors lead the charge: Natalie Thurber, a second-team all-YSCC seletion, leads the team in scoring (11.5 points per game) and tops in 3-point percentage (36.3 percent). Kristen Huntress, the YSCC tournament MVP, averages 8.7 points per game.

It’s unusual for teams to have two players making their third straight tournament appearance, but Huntress isn’t expecting the Mustangs’ resume to impress their opponents.

“The teams down there don’t care that we just won our conference tournament,” Huntress said. “They don’t care that we’ve been successful in the national tournament. We just have to focus on ourselves and do what we’ve been doing all season.”

A pair of freshmen, guard Eliza Brault and forward Abby Nadeau, an Oak Hill graduate, made a significant impact in their first season. Brault averaged 11.2 ppg and was named to the YSCC first-team all-stars, while Nadeau bounced back from injury to average 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.


Given the injuries and roster turnover, it took some time for Morong and his staff to sort through the right combinations to put on the floor. Last Sunday’s 74-67 YSCC championship win over Southern Maine Community College was the fourth game in a row with the same starting lineup, the longest streak of the season and the latest in a campaign that Morong can recall settling on a starting five.

Using different combinations and finding creative ways to make them productive has helped make CMCC a more well-rounded and diverse team, Morong said. Opponents don’t have one particular player or aspect of the game to focus on to hinder the Mustangs, and the bench, led by sophomore guards Rebecca Davila and Chandler True during the conference tournament, doesn’t allow foes any respite.

“We have a lot of depth on our bench and we’re able to use that to our advantage,” Nadeau said. “It’s exciting that we have a lot of different scenarios (to win a game).”

The Mustangs know they will play their first-round game at 2 p.m. on Monday, but won’t know who they are playing until Sunday, when No. 7 Johnson & Wales Charlotte takes on No. 10 Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences for the right to face CMCC.

Knowing the “lay of the land” and the routine of the tournament can be an advantage for regular visitors such as the Mustangs, Morong said. But one of the most predictable things about the tournament is it can and will get pretty unpredictable before a national champion is crowned on March 14.

Morong called the battle for the title “a toss-up” for as many as seven of the 10 teams in the tournament.

The bracket includes a number of newcomers and schools that have not been there in a while, but also some familiar opponents. Johnson & Wales Charlotte defeated CMCC in the 2018 national championship game and reached last year’s national semifinals. Third-seeded Villa Maria, which faces No. 3 UMaine-Machias and former Monmouth Academy star Abbey Allen on Monday, lost to CMCC in last year’s championship game.

Fifth-seeded SMCC, which includes Edward Little’s Grace Fontaine and Oxford Hills’ Bailey Whitney, plays No. 4 University of Cincinnati-Clermont in another first-round game on Monday.

The USCAA link to watch streaming of all of the games can be found here.

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