WATERVILLE — For all its dominance in a 22-6 season last winter, the Colby women’s basketball team came up short in all three meetings with rival Bowdoin. Saturday afternoon was the time to break that streak.

Colby’s on-court “celebration” after finishing off a 56-41 victory at Wadsworth Gymnasium consisted of a few high-fives and embraces. That belied the way the Mules played, as they used an aggressive offense and defense to earn the win.

“Ever since I’ve been in college, it’s always been a really close game against them,” said Colby junior Jacky McLaughlin, who hit three 3-pointers on her way to nine points. “It’s always a battle. We always just try to come in knowing that it’s a totally doable win, but we still want to respect their abilities, because they’re a really good team.”

Jil Vaughan led Colby with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and shot 8 of 11 from the floor. Aarika Ritchie added 12 points, and Colby’s defense smothered the Polar Bears all afternoon. Bowdoin shot 29 percent from the field and never could get a burst of quick points, even in the final minutes when they especially needed to score.

“I think the big thing this game was, our defensive plan was in effect the full 40 minutes,” Colby coach Julie Veilleux said.

Bowdoin (3-2) was ranked 10th and Colby (5-0) was 15th in the latest d3hoops.com Division III national poll, but the Mules jumped out to a 16-6 lead early in the first half. Bowdoin came right back to tie the game at 16 before Colby regained control and led 28-21 at the half.

“Both our teams are capable of going on runs, so it’s just about maintaining composure and weathering the runs,” said Colby senior Rachael Mack, who scored eight points.

McLaughlin, who was held scoreless in the first half, opened the second half with a 3-pointer to put Colby’s lead at 10 points. Bowdoin got back within four on baskets by Alexa Barry, Jill Henrikson and Anna Prohl, but the Polar Bears never got that close again.

First, Vaughan scored two inside baskets, then dove for a loose ball and found McLaughlin, who knocked down another 3 to make it 38-27. A few minutes later, with Vaughan and point guard Diana Manduca (eight points, seven rebounds, seven assists) on the bench, Bowdoin scored two quick baskets to cut Colby’s lead to 38-33. McLaughlin answered with a 3 from the left side.

Those sequences showcased the versatility of Colby’s new offense under Veilleux. Vaughan works mostly inside (although she did hit one shot from just inside the 3-point line) but pretty much everyone else is a 3-point threat. Of Colby’s 52 field goal attempts, 22 were 3-pointers.

“I think it’s definitely tailored to our personnel,” Mack said of the new offense. “We’re taking much better advantage on everyone’s specific skills, and what they do best.”

“I’m a fan of it,” McLaughlin said. “It gets us moving. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for us to be shooting 3s. We can knock ‘em down. If we’re not open for a 3, or we can’t hit that day, we can always dump it in for a good post shot.”

The Mules earned the win, but they also earned some rest. Four Colby starters played at least 36 minutes as each team went with essentially a six-player rotation.

“This was a tough mental battle, and we all knew it was going to be a tough mental battle going into it,” Veilleux said. “It’s two rival teams, and neither one of us went real deep on the bench. I think we did a great job of sticking as a unit and executing our game plan.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

mdifilippo@centralmaine.com