WATERVILLE — Most of the Colby women’s basketball team was gathered in the trophy room, just a short walk from the court at Wadsworth Gymnasium.

But what happens when you’re waiting to find out where to go, and it turns out to be nowhere?

That’s what the Mules faced Monday afternoon as they watched the NCAA Division III selection show. The teams were revealed in groups of eight and, when all 64 teams had been listed, Colby — despite a 19-7 overall record and the sixth-toughest schedule in the country — was not one of them.

Colby senior Jil Vaughan nervously buried her head in her hands before the final eight teams were shown, but when it became obvious Colby’s season was over, everyone in the room was speechless.

“They were in shock,” Colby coach Julie Veilleux said a few hours later. “They might still be in shock right now, to be honest. I know they’re hurting inside. I know they’re upset.”

Veilleux was expecting the NCAA to take four teams from the New England Small College Athletic Conference. Instead, only Amherst (ranked first in the nation in both polls), Tufts and Bowdoin made the field. Colby made the NCAA tournament and won in the first round in each of the last two years.

The website D3hoops.com predicted the field before Monday’s selection show and had Colby receiving one of the 21 at-large bids. Pat Coleman, who runs the website, was also surprised the Mules were not selected.

“They’re clearly, on my board, the best team that didn’t get in — by a significant margin,” Coleman said. “I don’t know why the decision would have been made this way, to be honest with you. I thought it was pretty clear that Colby belonged in the field.”

One thing that could have kept the Mules out of the tournament was that the University of New England lost in the Commonwealth Coast Conference semifinals.

Salve Regina (19-9) won the tournament and earned the automatic bid, but UNE still made the field as an at-large selection. UNE, which defeated Colby 70-63 in overtime in December, has a 22-5 record and will play Johns Hopkins in the first round.

UNE was second in the Northeast in the latest regional rankings, while Tufts was ranked fourth, the University of Southern Maine was fifth, Bowdoin was sixth, Babson seventh and Colby eighth. Bowdoin (19-7) has a first-round meeting with USM (21-6).

Tufts, USM, Bowdoin and Babson all defeated Colby this season, but three of those games were decided by less than 10 points, and while Bowdoin beat Colby by 12, the Mules also had a win over Bowdoin. Colby also lost to Amherst by one point in January, and has two wins over Williams, ranked ninth in the Northeast.

“When I got up this morning, I was pretty optimistic,” Veilleux said. “It wasn’t until a little bit before, when I heard on the men’s side only two got in from the NESCAC, I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ “

Coleman was surprised by the inclusion of two Pennsylvania schools over Colby: King’s (22-5) and Messiah (21-7). King’s played only one team all season that was regionally ranked, and that resulted in a 49-42 loss to Rutgers-Newark — a team that finished 18-8 and did not make the NCAA tournament.

King’s lost to Misericordia (17-10) in its conference finals, which also could have hurt Colby, since Misericordia received an automatic bid.

Messiah, meanwhile, finished 21-5, but also did not defeat a regionally ranked opponent this season. Messiah lost in the semifinals of its conference tournament, but still received a first-round game against Kean (22-5), a team Messiah lost to by 20 points in a regular-season meeting.

The decision means that four Colby seniors have played their last game. Vaughan, Cony graduate Rachael Mack and Aarika Ritchie were starters and the top three scorers this season, and Kelly Potvin played 19 minutes per game off the bench.

Mack scored 1,241 points in her career, while Ritchie had 977 and Vaughan finished with 887. The Mules were 78-30 during their four seasons together, after going 31-66 the four seasons before that.

“My heart just goes out to the seniors,” Veilleux said. “They have done so much for the program and completely changed the program. For it to end like this, it’s just a complete bummer. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

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