|St. Joseph's (Maine) athletics photo
By Brian Lester
Kelsi McNamara became the all-time leading scorer at St. Joseph’s (Maine) on Tuesday night, breaking a record held by Kendra Coates that had remained in place for nearly 30 years.
Getting to the 1,775-point total off a 3-pointer midway through the third quarter and then passing it with another 3-pointer a few minutes later – her career total is at 1,780 – in a 75-72 win over Colby-Sawyer is a goal that wasn’t at the top of her list but is certainly one she takes great pride in accomplishing.
“It’s one of those things you keep in the back of your head, a goal I did set for myself,” McNamara said. “It’s definitely not one of my top goals like winning the conference and going to the NCAA Tournament, but I am proud of it. It’s a big accomplishment.”
Indeed, McNamara and her teammates have bigger fish to fry, so to speak, and among the expectations is to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Contending in March isn’t something easy to do for a team that doesn’t battle nationally ranked opponents during the regular season, but the belief that the 11th-ranked Monks can contend exists for good reason.
A year ago, they faced Amherst, the two-time reigning national champion and hung right with the Mammoths before exiting the madness of March with a 53-47 loss. No other team on Amherst’s path to back-to-back titles was within double digits.
That’s something St. Joseph’s head coach Mike McDevitt has used as added motivation for his team, which is unbeaten through 16 games.
“We took a great deal of confidence from that experience and saw how Amherst handled other teams in the tournament. You can’t compare scores, but it made us feel that we are a competitive team because we were within a couple of possessions of winning it.”
McNamara has been to the tournament every year of her career at St. Joseph’s, but last season was her first time playing in the second round.
She wasn’t fazed by facing the No. 1 team in the nation either, connecting on 11 of her 21 shots from the floor and scoring 30 points. She left the gym that day feeling like the Monks are good enough to compete with anyone on a national stage.
“We went in knowing we had nothing to lose,” McNamara said. “We weren’t happy with the outcome, but we were happy we were able to prove that we can play with the best teams in the country.”
The pieces are in place for the Monks to do it again.
It starts with McNamara.
The senior star is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 21.1 points per game. She’s drilled 49 shots from long range and already has more than 100 assists (109).
One of the most decorated players in program history, McNamara is the reigning player of the year in the GNAC and a three-time conference tournament MVP.
She’s also a D3hoops.com preseason All-American.
“Coming into college I didn’t know what to expect,” McNamara said. “I knew I was going into a good program and I’m so thankful for my teammates and coaches. They’ve had a lot to do with my success.”
But she isn’t alone in the quest to guide the Monks to postseason success.
Three other seniors are on the roster, and all three are key contributors.
Emily Benway is averaging close to a double-double (12.9 points/9.4 rebounds) while Julia Champagne is scoring close to 13 per game (12.6) while grabbing just over five rebounds (5.1) per outing.
Hannah Marks is pouring in 8.9 points per outing.
“Kelsi is the leader of the group, but the entire senior class brings a lot to the team,” McDevitt said. “They have a lot of experience and have had success. It’s a special, competitive group.”
It gives McNamara comfort knowing she can count on her teammates to deliver.
“There are teams that will try to deny me the ball, but the good thing about this team is that we have so many good players who can score. It’s hard to focus on just one of us,” McNamara said. “I know if I don’t have a good game, someone else is going to step up and make shots.”
McDevitt has a grasp on what it takes to win at this level. He has coached the Monks to the NCAA tournament four times in the last five seasons. He took Southern Maine to the tourney in 2009.
He praises his team’s work ethic and its knack for consistency in its play. He also said the hype surrounding his team hasn’t gone to the heads of his players.
“They have stayed grounded and focused. We don’t talk about the national rankings or our record,” McDevitt said. “We really do just try to play one game at a time, and right now, all of our focus is on the conference.”
If this St. Joseph’s team is to make a run, though, great play on the defensive end of the floor is vital.
The Monks have put that on display time and again, allowing 55.3 points per outing.
“If there is anything that we’ve learned about winning, especially in the tournament, it’s that you have to be tough on defense,” McDevitt said. “We have very talented scorers, and that’s not something we take for granted, but defense is where your focus has to be. We spend a lot of time on it.”
This St. Joseph’s team has a chance to be special for sure and McNamara will tell you she and her teammates are poised to make noise in March.
“Getting past that first-round game last year, we now know what it takes to do that, and with the experience against Amherst, we feel more prepared for playing in the tournament,” McNamara said. “We have a better sense of what we have to do to make it even further. Each game has to be viewed as the biggest game. If we look at that way and play our best, we can go far.”