By Chris O'Donnell
---- — For most college students, areas of study change like New England weather, on an average three or four times over the course of a college stay.
But Erin McNamara, a senior on the women’s basketball team at the University of Southern Maine, knew from a very young age that nursing was her calling.
“Pretty much all my aunts and some cousins on my mother’s side are nurses,” she explained. “So I’ve seen the rewards from a young age.”
The standard of women’s basketball at Southern Maine is very high, as is the nursing program. USM coach Gary Fifield, in his 26th season, doesn’t recall too many players who took on both.
“We’ve had a couple,” he said. “I think there are two others on the team now. Anyone who tells a kid that it’s easy to be a nursing major and play college basketball isn’t being completely candid. We’ve had some luck in that the ones we’ve had have been very, very good students.”
The Huskies have won the Little East Conference tournament championship 20 of the league’s 27 years, 11 straight times from 1997-2007, and again last season. They were tabbed to repeat this season in the preseason coaches poll.
They’ve been to the NCAA tournament in 26 of the last 28 years, including the championship game in 1998, 2000 and 2006. Their uniform numbers may as well be bulls’ eyes, similar to when McNamara played at Pentucket for her father, John.
“Every game was a battle, and I liked that,” she said.
Senior year is the most challenging for nursing majors at Southern Maine – without the rigors of Division 3 athletics. It is a make-or-break year. A captain and point guard, McNamara had to forego practice once a week last semester to complete part of her clinical study at Maine Medical Center (she did individual workouts with an assistant coach afterward).
She uses away games to study on the bus and has been known to study flashcards during water breaks.
“Only if I have an exam after,” she noted.
“She makes the most of the time she has,” Fifield said. “Two or three minutes here and there.”
In a 20-plus minute conversation, McNamara makes no mention of a social life. That explains her 3.92 cumulative grade point average. She sees parallels in playing point guard and nursing.
“I think playing basketball has given me a huge advantage. Teamwork is such an important part of nursing when you’re working with doctors and other nurses.
“My goal going to see every patient is to make a slight difference,” she added. “They’re in a hospital. They don’t want to be there. So if I can make their day a little better, then I’ve done my job.”
As a point guard, her job is to run the offense, to lead, stay composed and make plays in critical situations — similar to an ER nurse, which she can envision herself becoming.
For the season, McNamara is averaging team-highs of 14.3 points and 3.2 assists per game. She had her best night Tuesday with a career-high 29 points along with five assists in a 74-46 win at Husson.
“She is a coach on the floor, which is not a surprise since her dad was her coach,” Fifield noted. “She has a very good basketball IQ.”
Southern Maine is off to an 8-4 start, impressive considering it graduated three first-team All-Little East players from last season’s 27-2 squad.
There is plenty of motivation this year. Ranked as high as No. 11 in the USA Division 3 Poll last season, the Huskies were upset at home against Smith College, 80-58, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
It still stings McNamara. The fact that it is part of the Huskies’ drive this season is not lost on anyone. It was supposed to be The Year.
“We were predicted to make it to the Final Four,” McNamara said. “We’re all still bitter about (the loss). Not one of us played a good game. It was (Smith’s) night.”
The NCAA tournament appearance was McNamara’s second, but she has yet to experience a win.
“My goal is to win the Little East Tournament and get back to the NCAAs one more time, especially since I’m a senior,” she said. “There is definitely pressure on us, but it motivates me. I think I thrive on it.”
Notebook: Moore (again) named LEC Rookie of the Week
Alex Moore (West Newbury), a freshman on the Rhode Island College women’s basketball team, was named the Little East Conference Rookie of the Week Monday for the second time this season. Moore compiled a career-high 22 points along with six rebounds and two assists as the Anchorwomen stunned No. 25 Bowdoin last weekend, their first action of the second semester. RIC is 6-4 and has won three straight games and four of its last five.
Saint Anselm senior Ashley Viselli (Groveland) has appeared in all 13 games for Saint Anselm with season-highs of seven points in a 72-69 loss at Franklin Pierce Dec. 7 and eight rebounds in a 72-67 loss to Merrimack Nov. 26. The Hawks are 8-5 overall and winner in four of its last five game.
Beth Castantini (Newburyport), a sophomore at UMass Dartmouth, scored 12 points Tuesday in a 77-43 win over Mount Ida.
Hannah McCormick, a senior on the Holy Cross women’s track and field team, achieved a personal-best time of 5:12.74 in the mile when she placed fourth at the Harvard Open Dec. 7.
Deanna Latham (Newbury) and the Wisconsin women’s track and field team open the indoor season next Saturday and Sunday when it hosts the Badger Indoor Open. Latham was a second team All-American in the indoor pentathlon last year.
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