Members of the Bates College women’s basketball team, coaches, staff, and others react Monday afternoon in the foyer of the Alumni Gymnasium on the campus in Lewiston. They were cheering when Bates was announced while watching a video feed of the tournament bracket selection broadcast. They will play Roger Williams in their first game of the tournament. In the front row from left to right are Amaari Williams, Ariana Dalia, Sarah Bennett, and Jenna Berens. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The Bates College women’s basketball team isn’t satisfied with the history it has already made this season.

The Bobcats claimed the program’s first New England Small College Athletic Conference championship on Sunday. Next up is the NCAA Division III tournament.

“Obviously, it’s a huge accomplishment for us to win our conference, but we definitely have bigger goals ahead of us,” junior guard Meghan Graff said. “Winning the NESCAC conference was one of our many goals, and making a huge run in the NCAA tournament is definitely above all the other goals.

“We can’t be satisfied with just one championship. Once you win one championship, you’ve got to start focusing on the next one.”

The matchups for the D-III tournament were announced Monday. Bates (17-7) will face Roger Williams on Friday in New York. The winner of that game will face host New York University or Washington & Lee on Saturday.

The Bobcats’ conference title gave them an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. So, though they had to wait more than 30 minutes to find out who and where they were playing, they had the luxury of knowing that their name would be called.


“It feels great, but it also feels like this is exactly where we should be,” Bates coach Alison Montgomery said. “I’m not at all surprised. Our team has put in the work, I think we have a really talented group, and so I fully expected that we would be competing for a championship this season, yeah, and certainly, in our conference. That means you have a great chance at the national conference. It’s where we expected to be.”

Roger Williams (25-2) also had an automatic bid into the 64-team field, earned by winning the Commonwealth Coast Conference.

The Commonwealth Coast Conference includes Biddeford’s University of New England and several other schools throughout New England, so Montgomery said that there is some familiarity between the Bobcats and the Hawks, who are based in Bristol, Rhode Island.

“Have not played them, actually, since I’ve coached here at Bates, but really familiar just because they have such a great program,” Montgomery said. “And a lot of their kids are regional kids, so I have known them in the recruiting process and seen them as high school players.

“So, yeah, really tough team. At this point, everybody is. But we’re excited to sort of focus up on them and learn more about them.”

Katie Galligan (13.4 points per game) is the Hawks’ leading scorer. Second is Karli Opalka (11.9 ppg), who also is known for her rebounding (10.6 per game).


Rebounding also is an important part of the Bobcats’ success, led by Ariana Dalia (8.8 per game) and Brianna Gadaleta (7.7), who grabbed 12 and 16 rebounds, respectively, in Bates’ win over Amherst on Sunday.

“We’re a really strong rebounding team, and that has really helped us out this year. Just being able to get second-chance opportunities has been huge,” Graff said. “It has allowed us to gain momentum, and it can run other teams down when we’re on offense and a team is working their butt off defensively, and they give up an offensive rebound; there’s nothing more frustrating than that.”

Graff is Bates’ top scorer, as she has been since her freshman season, averaging 16.3 points per game. She’s had a lot of help this season from Mia Roy (12.9 ppg), Gadaleta (11.5), Morgan Kennedy (10.1) and Dalia (8.1).

“We definitely have a much more balanced team,” Montgomery said. “A couple of years ago, we definitely relied on Meghan a lot more heavily — we certainly still rely on her a ton, just as our point guard and as our floor leader, and she certainly scores a lot for us as well — but that’s been a huge difference for us, in terms of getting wins, we’re a lot harder to guard because we have multiple women who can score. So that has been a huge difference, that balanced attack.”

Graff was named the NESCAC Player of the Week on Monday.

Roger Williams is ranked 21st in the Division III coaches poll released Monday. The Bobcats, despite their run through the NESCAC tournament, which included a win over No. 9 Amherst on Sunday, are not in the top 25 and are not listed among the other teams receiving votes.


If the Bobcats are being overlooked, they aren’t too concerned.

“I think that’s OK. Our sort of theme this year has been about making a statement and sort of getting that respect,” Montgomery said. “And a lot of teams that we compete against regularly are teams that have established themselves, year in and year out, and that’s really hard to do. …

“So, I definitely understand why that happens, and it’s not always a bad thing, to be a little bit overlooked and for people to just accept that the usual suspects are going to win. And so I think we’ve kind of enjoyed that.”

The Bobcats have made statements throughout the winter.

They defeated rival Bowdoin, a consistent national power, twice and Amherst twice. They took out top-seeded Trinity on its home court in the NESCAC semifinals. They became only the fourth school to win the NESCAC tournament, which has been dominated by Bowdoin (which has won nine times), Amherst (eight) and Tufts (three).

“We’re thinking like we’re playing our best basketball right now, we’re kind of peaking. I think timing is really important because you want to be playing your best at the end of the season,” Montgomery said. “I think our team is confident, focused, and we just did something that a lot of people doubted, but nobody in our circle doubted.

“So, (we’re) just trying to continue that but also focus on getting better every day and just understanding that the longer you advance in the season, the tougher it becomes and the better the teams become. So, I think they’re really focused on that, and I think it’s exciting and I don’t think they’re at all satisfied with just doing what we did yesterday, and they want to keep going.”

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