CASTLETON, Vt. – After winning nine straight conference games to secure the second seed in the North Atlantic Conference Women's Basketball Tournament, Castleton University travels to Bangor, Maine, looking for a return trip to the championship game and its third conference title in the past four years.
The Spartans have advanced to the tournament championship game in each of the last eight seasons, winning the NAC title in 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2015. Last year, Castleton defeated Maine Maritime in the semifinals before losing to Husson in the final on the Eagles' home court, 58-49.
Castleton is led by First Team All-NAC honoree Amanda Beatty, the team leader with 13.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Makayla Farrara, named Second Team All-NAC earlier Thursday, is averaging 12.3 points per game, while Ashlie Fay leads the Spartans with 3.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game to go along with 5.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest.
The Spartans have been one of the best defensive teams in the country throughout the season, currently ranked fourth in field goal percentage defense (.303) and sixth in scoring defense (47.1 ppg). Castleton did not allow more than 68 points in any game this season and held its opponents under 40 points seven times.
New England College enters Friday's semifinal with a 20-6 overall record after rallying from a 19-point deficit to defeat Johnson State Tuesday night, 65-63. The Pilgrims finished the regular season in third place in the NAC standings with a 13-5 league mark.
Rene Hudson leads the Pilgrims with 15.5 points per game, plus she is grabbing 5.0 rebounds per contest. The win over Johnson State extended New England College's winning streak to four games.
The teams split the meetings during the regular season, starting with a 51-45 comeback victory for Castleton at Glenbrook Gym on Nov. 30. New England College scored the first seven points and held onto the lead until Lindsay Sabo hit the first of five straight three-pointers at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
The Pilgrims defeated the Spartans on Jan. 14 at Bridges Gym, 66-56, taking the lead in the second quarter and never relinquishing it. Hudson scored 18 points, while Utshana Durham and Breana Ramirez scored 14 points apiece for New England College. Sabo again led Castleton, hitting four three-pointers as she scored 14 points.
Overall, Castleton holds a 15-1 series advantage over New England College. This will be the second meeting between the two teams in the NAC Tournament, with the Spartans defeating the Pilgrims, 45-40, in the championship game of the 2015 tournament held at Glenbrook Gym.
The other semifinal pits top seed and host school Husson against fourth seed Colby-Sawyer. The Spartans split the season series with the Eagles, avenging a 68-36 loss in Castleton on Jan. 20 with a 59-54 win in Bangor just two weeks ago. Castleton swept Colby-Sawyer, defeating the Chargers 43-39 in Castleton on Jan. 12 and 69-43 in New London, N.H., on Jan. 31.