Local Talent Fires up Lady Clippers

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The University of Maine at Machias women's basketball team is small but mighty. The nine-member squad is off to a 6-2 start and was #1 in the USCAA rankings last week. (Photo courtesy Tate Dolley)

By Sarah Craighead Dedmon

On their way to last week’s game, the University of Maine at Machias women’s basketball team anxiously awaited the latest USCAA power rankings. Coach Troy Alley had predicted their strong 6-2 record would land them in the national top 10, but when the rankings came out he heard they were actually number three. 

Five minutes later he realized his mistake. “Ladies, we’re not third,” said Alley. They were crestfallen. “We’re first.” 

USCAA’s (United States Collegiate Athletic Association) weekly power rankings calculate a team’s strength based on a variety of metrics including their record and the difficulty of their schedule. Coach Alley said that UMM teams often end up playing tough schedules with games against larger NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) schools, simply because there are fewer teams in our region to play. 

“We beat the University of Maine Farmington women, which is a big win because they’re an NCAA team,” said Alley. “Sometimes in the past, our record hasn’t reflected how good we are because other teams in our conference don’t play nearly as hard a schedule as what we play.” 

UMM is Alley’s alma mater, but his personal connection to the school doesn’t end there. “My dad graduated from here, I did, my brother did, my wife did, now my daughter has,” said Alley, whose eldest daughter also played for him as a Lady Clipper. Alley’s father was the first person inducted into the UMM Athletic Hall of Fame.

“My family is totally invested in this school,” he said. 

Many of this year’s athletes also have deep personal connections to Washington County, with six of the nine graduating from schools in Machias, Calais, Woodland and Washington Academy. One athlete comes from Arizona, another from Ashland, and one came from Monmouth but has family in Beals. 

Machias Memorial High School graduate Tate Dolley transferred to UMM this year and said having so much local talent on the team meant she knew a lot of her teammates from day one. 

“We’ve always played against each other, and we’ve played against Coach Alley,” said Dolley. “I’ve been playing against him since Pee Wee basketball. It’s really cool that we all just came together already knowing each other.”

Dennysville’s Alayna Caricofe is the team’s lone senior and one of its co-captains. She played basketball at Washington Academy for four years and has played for the Clippers all four years, too. “We have the potential to go to nationals this year, which is really exciting,” said Caricofe. “We’ve progressively gotten better each year. We’re small, but we’re good.”

Dolley said a comfortable team size is usually closer to 15 or 16 players, so having a nine-player team means that each member works harder. “There are a few of us that will play 35 to 40 minutes a game and that’s really hard, especially when one of us gets injured,” said Dolley.

“They play a lot of minutes,” said Alley. “They work really hard, so we try to make sure they’re in top-notch physical condition.”

Since Alley became UMM’s coach and assistant athletic director four years ago, the women’s team has gone from a two-win season (one by forfeit) to this year’s strong start of six wins and two losses, plus an exhibition game win not included in that record. But Alley says the schedule is about to get tough.

“Our next four or five games are really hard,” he said. “Hopefully we’re still number one after the next two weeks.”

The team’s next home game, scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 9. is against Central Maine Community College, 2017 USCAA National Champions and 2018 runner-up. For this game attendees are encouraged to bring a donation for the school’s holiday toy drive.

UMM’s home game on Wednesday, Dec. 12 is against New York’s Fisher College, a team which delivered two significant losses to UMM in 2017. 

“Once we play those games we’ll see how the rest of the season will go,” said Dolley.

 

UMM Athletic and Fitness Director Mike Belanger joined the university program this year in time to see the women’s basketball team form in the pre-season. “It’s great to see their hard work from the off-season and the pre-season paying off,” he said. “[Their number one ranking] is a great testament to their work on the court and really shows the strength of Downeast Maine basketball.”