Colby’s Cindy Giandomenico (5) tries to stuff the puck past Bowdoin goalie Dani Marquez as her teammate Julia Surgenor defends during a Feb. 29 NESCAC quarterfinal game in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

 

WATERVILLE — First, the bad news. In sports, there is almost always bad news.

The Colby College women’s hockey team was first upset by Amherst in the semifinals of the New England Small College Athletic Conference tournament on Saturday, then those same Mammoths went and upset host and nationally-ranked No. 2 Middlebury in the championship game Sunday afternoon.

With the win, Amherst played itself straight into the NCAA Division III national tournament and locked Colby — a near shoe-in prior to the weekend — out of the 10-team field.

It was prophetic then, of course, that Colby head coach Holley Tyng had mentioned last week in passing the Mules’ national tournament prospects. Colby was eighth in the national PairWise rankings at the time — a formula which mirrors the criteria the selection committee employs — and on track for one of three at-large bids.

All Colby needed was for the seven conferences with automatic bids for their champions to avoid any major upsets.

And then Amherst, seeded third in the NESCAC, beat each of the top two seeds in the final two rounds of the tournament to become that team Tyng feared. Colby failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament field, which was announced Monday. 

“I think if we just reach that championship game, then it’s us hosting Norwich (on Wednesday) instead of Amherst,” Tyng said Monday.

But that’s the bad news.

As far as the Mules go, there is plenty of good news.

Colby went 15-6-5 overall this season (9-3-4 in the NESCAC), the 15 wins the most since the Mules won 15 in 2007-2008. The program reached the conference semifinals for the first time in six years. That the Mules were even in the NCAA conversation marked a turnaround the began when Tyng took over prior to the start of the 2016-17 season.

In Tyng’s first year, Colby went winless in the conference — winless! — at 0-15-1. The Mules went 0-for their first 22 overall that winter, not finally breaking through until the end of the season. The very end of the season, in fact.

They missed the NESCAC playoffs for good reason, but they did close the campaign with consecutive non-league wins over Southern Maine and Becker.

The next year, the Mules won eight games, and they won 12 more a season ago. It was all part of a turnaround Tyng has engineered — through recruiting, obviously, but also through a philosophy which produces results.

“There’s been talent here, but there was untapped potential, too,” Tyng said. “It takes nurturing. It takes believing. It takes some confidence.”

To a person, the Colby women talked all season about busting out of the starting gate this season with an eight-game unbeaten streak to set the tone for what was to come.

They also talked — consistently — about buying into the one game at a time mantra Tyng loves so much. But the head coach doesn’t just talk the talk.

“Even going into the Amherst series (the final series of the regular season), I still thought, ‘We’ve got to keep proving ourselves,’” Tyng said. “As a team, I think the players took on that mentality, too.

“In our league, every single game is a dogfight. It’s literally every single game. You can finish anywhere second through seventh and still feel like you had a really good season.”

Maybe.

The foundation Colby has built suggests that it could also be a really good foundation for the future.

“A lot of it is the players. It’s the growth of them as individuals,” Tyng said. “It’s why you love to coach. You love to see the improvement, to see them develop as people and players. There’s no better satisfaction than watching players grow into strong, confident players and people. I think (this season) is a byproduct of that philosophy.”

Not making the NCAA tournament was a blow, particularly for a senior class that was the final class Tyng inherited from the previous regime. Players like Tess Dupre, Izzy Tegtmeyer, Moira Mullaney, Cassidy Holzer and Lily Santonelli won’t get a second chance at making the NCAA tournament in a year or two.

That’s the bad news.

But there’s a lot of good news in sports, too. The Colby women’s hockey program delivered plenty of that this winter.


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