BRUNSWICK — Having strong women’s basketball teams is nothing new for Bowdoin College.

The Polar Bears have qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament 17 of the last 18 seasons, including nine of the last 10 under Coach Adrienne Shibles.

Reaching the Final Four? That’s been more difficult. Until this season.

Bowdoin is going to the national semifinals for the second time in school history. In 2004, Bowdoin advanced to the national championship game, losing to Wilmington.

“The 2004 team, they were sick, they were so good,” said senior tri-captain Lydia Caputi, who is from Brunswick. “I remember that team. I was 9 years old. (Now) I’m a member of one of four teams that’s practicing right now and still gets to play Division III women’s basketball. That’s pretty incredible.”

Bowdoin beat NESCAC rival Tufts 66-48 on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

That means a good chunk of the players’ two-week spring break will be spent in and around the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota, for the Final Four.

“I am going somewhere warm after we take care of business this weekend,” Caputi said.

Bowdoin (28-2 and ranked fifth in both national polls) will face No. 2 Wartburg (31-0) of Waverly, Iowa, at 8:30 p.m. Friday. No. 1 and defending national champion Amherst (31-0) faces No. 3 Thomas More (30-1) of Crestview Hills, Kentucky at 6 p.m.

The championship game is at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Amherst, the NESCAC champion, beat visiting Bowdoin 49-45 in the regular season. Thomas More won NCAA titles in 2015 (since vacated) and 2016.

“We need to stay really focused on the fact that we’re there to play two games, to win two games, against very good opponents,” Shibles said. “It’s going to take all of our players really showing up and putting forth our best defensive effort.”

The seeds for Bowdoin’s success were sown in last year’s playoff disappointment, a 62-61 first-round loss to New Paltz State.

“None of us expected to lose in the first round of NCAAs,” said senior tri-captain Lauren Petit of Medfield, Massachusetts. “They played a great game, they outplayed us, but it was definitely a shock to our system. None of us wanted to feel that way again so we worked extra hard in the offseason.”

This season the team adopted a slogan of “Win the Day.”

“We talked about how we wanted to compete each and every day in practice and I think we executed that each day,” said senior tri-captain Kate Kerrigan of Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. “We were always worried about winning that singular day. We were never worried about looking ahead to NESCAC play, or the NCAA tournament.”

Kerrigan, a 5-foot-7 guard, was named both the Player of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year (for a third time) in the NESCAC. She sets the tone with her competitive fire and all-around game (10.7 points, team-leading 6.8 rebounds).

Abby Kelly leads the team in scoring, averaging 11.6 points off the bench. Point guard Taylor Choate scores at a 9.3 clip and is coming off an 18-point effort against Tufts. Kelly had 15 points and 10 rebounds in a Sweet Sixteen win against Scranton.

If Bowdoin needed a reminder of how tenuous success can be, it got it a few weeks earlier in the NESCAC semifinals. Tufts won 60-48 in large part because the Jumbos had a 47-34 rebounding advantage.

In their four NCAA wins the Polar Bears have a plus-15.8 rebound advantage.

Continuing to control the glass will help slow down Wartburg, a team that averages 77.4 points per game. Bowdoin has scored 80.6 points per game.

Wartburg is making its second NCAA Final Four appearance in three seasons. All five senior starters were part of the team that lost to Tufts in the semifinals in 2016.

Twin sisters Katie and Kristie Sommer have made 64 and 63 3-pointers. Katie Sommer, a 5-5 guard who can get to the rim, leads Wartburg in scoring with 14.8 points per game and was named the Iowa Conference’s player of the year.

“Wartburg has really talented offensive weapons and they’re a little bit like us in that they like to play a fast tempo and shoot the ball from deep,” Shibles said. “They have good interior players as well.”

Bowdoin counters with a deeper rotation. Nine players average at least 14 minutes and each averages at least five points.

The roster includes five in-state players: Caputi, who played at Tabor Academy; starting center Cordelia Stewart of Bangor; sophomore Maddie Hasson of South Portland (7.0 points, 59.8 shooting percentage); junior Hannah Graham of Presque Isle (34 3-pointers on 52.3 percent shooting) and freshman Moira Train of Cumberland (Greely).

“We all have such a drive and focus of every day getting just a little bit better,” said Hasson. “I think having that outlook from the beginning of the season has gotten us to where we are now.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

Correction: This story was updated at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday March 13, 2018 to correct an incorrect reference to Bowdoin’s 2004 championship game.

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