AUBURN — The Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team added 16 new players to play alongside the one returner, Eliza Brault, from its 2019-20 national runner-up squad.

The change in players didn’t change the Mustangs’ high expectations, and freshman Emily Strachan said that the team had to work through some issues before it found its stride.

“It’s been really fun and interesting because we’re all so young,” Strachan said. “I expected to go all the way, and I think all of us did, but I think some other teams didn’t. We had some challenges along the way. Some issues with the team, right in the beginning we had some stupid girl stuff, but we got through it all and we pulled it out.”

The young Mustangs lived up to the standards set over the past several years, and on Saturday returned from Virginia to a crowd of fans congratulating them on winning the program’s third USCAA Division 2 championship since 2017.

CMCC head coach Andrew Morong told the players at the beginning of the season that it was the most talented group in the program’s history, and, as he said Saturday, that the biggest thing they lacked was experience. 

The team worked through its problems, gained experience and won three games in the USCAA Division 2 national tournament, capped by a 63-35 victory over Penn State Schuylkill on Thursday.


“It feels really, really good to be home,” Morong said. “This title is very special because it came with a lot of adversity. There were a lot of peaks and valleys along the way, and there was a lot of stress, a lot of triumph, and this one was special. It was special because it was earned, down to the itty-bitty details.”

Central Maine Community College women’s basketball coach Andrew Morong’s daughter, Lucy, waited patiently Saturday afternoon while her dad did interviews after returning with the team that captured the national championship, but eventually she jumped in for a kiss. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The Mustangs’ first opponent at the national tournament was the University of Maine at Augusta, which dealt CMCC two of its three losses in the regular season. 

Morong said that he was initially frustrated when he found out that the Mustangs were facing the Moose for a third time in Tuesday’s quarterfinals. Then, former CMCC players helped change his thinking.

“We just had to exorcize those demons,” Morong said. “I was looking at it the wrong way, and I was upset we had to play them again but our alumni sent us this video montage, and one of them said that it’s actually great because you have the opportunity to take everything away from them. Once I heard that I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re so right.’”

The Mustangs ended up defeating UMaine-Augusta 45-39 a win that Strachan called, “A really big confidence boost.”

Morong agreed.


“It was a special victory and we played extremely confidently,” Morong said. “We have been really gearing up, as far as confidence goes, and that game was the nail in the coffin and solidified everything for us.”

CMCC alumni and former players often attended games and sometimes even assisted in practices to help the young Mustangs come together. The team also had title winners Kristina Blais, Cagney O’Brien and Natalie Thurber on the coaching staff.

“It helped this year having three alumni assistant coaches who had all won national championships for us,” Morong said. “The alumni stepped up. Our alumni were at every single one of our games, they practiced with us at times because they knew the team needed it and they had a big hand in this one. They were with us all year long, and it made it that much more special for me as a coach. Very emotional.”

In the semifinals on Wednesday, CMCC took down Cincinnati-Clermont 70-56 to earn a spot in the national title game for the fifth consecutive time.

The team was confident heading into the final against Penn State Schuylkill. 

“We had obviously scouted them and everything and we were ready,” Morong said. “We knew what to expect and we knew that very rarely had they seen our kind of defense. We had played extremely talented offensive and defensive teams along the way, but we always hung our hat on the fact that we believed that we were the best defensive team in the USCAA and they would have to do something special to beat us.”


Lewiston High School graduate Myah Nicolas stepped up big in the national championship game. 

Nicolas did not play in the UMA game and played only one minute against Cincinnati-Clermont, but rose to the challenge in the championship game and scored a team-high 13 points.

The USCAA Small College National champion Central Maine Community College women’s basketball team poses for a photo in the school’s gym Saturday afternoon after driving back from the tournament in Virginia. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“I just left it all on the court,” Nicolas said. “I knew it was the last game and I knew I had to leave it all out there and do what I had to for my teammates.”

While Nicolas led in points, Brault, CMCC’s lone returner, was named the player of the tournament. 

“Eliza Brault coming off a second-team All-American selection as a freshman, she struggled mightily this year, but saved her best for last,” Morong said. “I know her confidence was rocked at times and we challenged her from time to time and she rose to the occasion. She cemented her spot in the CM history book with her performances in the tournaments.”

Contributions from area athletes including Lewiston’s Myah Nicolas, Jamyah Nicolas and Strachan as well as Oxford Hills grad Jade Smedberg and Mountain Valley’s Kierstyn Lyons also helped the Mustangs win the title.


“Mya, Jamya, Emily and Jade all did different things for us,” Morong said. “Emily was the scorer, Jade was the defensive expert, Jamayah was our utility knife and Myah, talk about coming into a game and seizing the moment. She scored a team-high 13 points after combining for 30 seconds in the previous two games. I am so proud and it’s so special for the community that you have four local kids ingrained in the success of the program.”

Winning made all the work and adversity worth it for Nicolas and Strachan.

“It was crazy. We were mostly all freshmen on this team, so we hadn’t ever accomplished anything like this before,” Nicolas said. “I’ve never been on a team that wins like this, so it was great to be able to enjoy this with the team.”

“It’s unreal,” Strachan added. “I always see the names up there on the banners, and it’s like, I have never experienced it, didn’t know how it would be, but now that I have done it, it’s amazing and I can’t wait to do it again next year.”

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