It’s only fitting that the first and only Keene State women’s basketball team to play in the NCAA Tournament, is the first Owl women’s basketball squad to be inducted into the KSC Alumni/Athletic Hall of Fame.
“There was no mystery why that 1989-90 team was as good as it was,” said Keith Boucher, who took over as the Owl’s head coach that season. “This team was driven by leadership. They had grown together as players and teammates and meshed their skills out on the court. It was a great joy to watch them play and coach them.”
A small veteran team that included past hall of fame inductees Tina Gonyea ‘90 and Laura Bennett Kules’92, the 1989-90 squad had all the components for success. In addition to senior leadership, their was the inside scoring and rebounding of Michelle Ziegler Bennett ’90, Kate Hellus Rabideau ’92, and Bennett, the ball handling of Gonyea, the outside shooting trio of Renee Bender Bernier ’90, Melinda Treadwell ’90, and Mary Nesbit White ’91, and the all-around contribution from freshmen Holly Feeney King ‘93, Elizabeth Clifford, and Megan Stephens. Joining Boucher on the bench were assistants Heidi Bristol and Paul Kobel and manager Vicki Bishop Bean ’93.
While past KSC women’s teams had tasted success with back-to-back ECAC titles in 1988 and 1989, the 1989-90 squad thirsted for the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a fabulous, cohesive team that wouldn’t be denied,” said Ziegler. “We were on a mission to get to the NCAAs.”
Favored to win the highly competitive New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Championship, the Owls thrived on the pressure of playing one of the toughest Division II schedules in the country. While the regular-season had its share of highlights, including key conference wins over New Hampshire College and former national champs New Haven as well as 1,000-point career games for Bernier and Gonyea, the Owls also had to overcome their share of adversity. Late in the season, Bernier suffered a broken hand and the Owls, despite tying for the conference title, were forced to go on the road to play the championship rounds of the NECC Tournament after losing a coin flip.
Rolling to a 68-54 opening round Tournament victory over New Haven at Spaulding Gym, the Owls traveled to Manchester where they defeated Bridgeport (93-75) in the semifinals. Despite dropping a hard-fought 75-63 game to N.H. College in the finals, the Owls were rewarded for their hard work with an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.
“Words were hard to come by when I went into the locker room following the N.H. College game,” admitted Boucher. “The next day, I was elated to find out we got into the NCAA Tournament. I wanted it for the seniors.”
Although the Owls lost in their first-round NCAA game to second ranked Bentley College (75-47), nothing can take away the pride of a team that fulfilled its dream to reach the national tournament. Many intangibles played a role in the team’s success. “We were very fortunate to have an inspirational coach and a very supportive group of fans,” Ziegler said. “We played entertaining basketball with three-point shots, great passing and rubbing elbows for rebounds. We gave them a show.”
Finishing their season with a 23-7 (11-3 NECC) record the 1989-90 Owl women’s basketball team earned their place in KSC history and their place in the KSC Hall of Fame.