From Hilltoppers to Huskies: 50 Years of Women’s Athletics at USM

From Hilltoppers to Huskies: 50 Years of Women’s Athletics at USM

Beginning in October, the USM Department of Athletics will recognize some of its many top student-athletes, coaches, and administrators - past and present - to celebrate its 50th Anniversary of Women's Intercollegiate Athletics.  

In addition to its monthly profiles, the Huskies' Department of Athletics will host a Celebration of 50 Years of Women's Athletics at USM on Saturday, February 4 (6:00 p.m.). The event at Spire 29 will follow on-the-court and on-ice celebrations during the women's basketball and women's ice hockey games that day at the Costello Sports Complex. 

From Hilltoppers to Huskies: 50 Years of Women's Athletics at USM

With a longstanding tradition of women's athletics, some of the earliest incarnations of the University of Southern Maine supported women in sport.  In 1918, before the NCAA, the AIAW (Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women), and long before the passage of Title IX, the Gorham Normal School women were playing interclass basketball, culminating in the first recorded intercollegiate game between Gorham Normal School and New Hampshire State College – a resounding 42-15 win for the women of Gorham. 

And 50 years later, when Gorham Normal School transitioned into Gorham State College, adopting the Hilltoppers as its mascot, that foundation of support created in 1918 carried over into the sustained growth and development of a vital women's intercollegiate program in 1967 – a half of a decade before the passage of Title IX. 

The growth in women's athletics at the University coincided with the tenure of two of the pillars of the Huskies' Department of Athletics: Dr. Richard "Doc" Costello and Dr. Paula Hodgdon.  The then Director of Athletics, Doc Costello's invitation to Paula Hodgdon in April of 1965 turned out to be a pivotal moment in the creation of women's intercollegiate athletics at Southern Maine. A guest speaker at the Women's Athletic Association banquet, Hodgdon spoke about the rise in interest in women's athletics throughout the country – and especially in the state of Maine.  Two years later in the fall of 1967, Hodgdon's arrival on campus - along with the unwavering support of Costello and the financial and administrative support from President Kenneth Brooks -  led to the initiation of women's intercollegiate athletics.

During that first season, Gorham State offered three sports: field hockey, basketball and volleyball (with basketball and field hockey being coached by Hodgdon). By the 1972-1973 academic year, Gorham State became UMaine Portland-Gorham and its intercollegiate athletic offerings for women increased to nine sports with the participation of 122 undergraduate women. 

Along with Costello and Hodgdon, other key figures, moments and achievements during  the growing years of women's athletics were earmarked by the University's progressive nature towards women in sport. UMPG joined the AIAW - the first national organization for collegiate women's athletics -  as one of the 188 original charter members. 

Student-athletes during the emerging years of women's athletics also made their mark, signifying the early stages of decades' long success by our female student-athletes.  Marianne Senechal made history, earning a spot on the 1975 USM men's soccer team (women's soccer was not introduced at USM until the 1980s) and to this day remains the only woman at UMPG/USM to play on the men's team; four-year tennis player Hilda Hinds (1972-76) represented UMPG at both the state and New England Regional championship each year; the 1974 field hockey team led by high-scoring Nancy Dugas captured the State Championship with a 3-0 win over UMaine; and the 1975-76 women's basketball team led by rookie and future Husky Hall of Fame inductee Michele Rollins captured the Western Maine Athletic Conference title, qualified for the EAIAW Small College Tournament, and finished second in the MAIAW tournament.  

Husky athletics and its student-athletes have continued to blossom over the past 50 years.  Today's University of Southern Maine student-athletes are achieving in the classroom and their chosen arena of competition.  The Huskies' Athletics Department sponsors 11 intercollegiate sports for women, and supports 237 female student-athletes – a number that represents 48.3 percent of all student-athletes.

Huskies' women's teams have competed at the national stage and excelled academically.  Recent graduate Peyton Dostie (Business major), track & field and field hockey standout, became the Huskies' first national champion in 2016 winning the NCAA Division III title in the pentathlon; the women's basketball team has competed at the NCAA Division III Final Four five times and hoops' alumnae Ashley Marble (Health Fitness major) was named the Division III Player of the Year and Academic All-American of the Year in 2007. 

Nursing major and junior field hockey player Lindsay Jackson, one of several Huskies to earn National Field Hockey Coaches' Association (NFHCA) Scholar-Athlete honors, was named a NFHCA Scholar-Athlete of Distinction last fall for achieving a grade point average of 3.9 or higher.  Another nursing major and track & field standout Nicole Kirk earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors in the spring of 2016, holding an outstanding 3.66 GPA.  Kirk, who holds six individual school records, earned numerous All-LEC, All-Alliance, All-New England and All-ECAC honors during her remarkable career.  

Two-sport student-athlete (softball and ice hockey) junior Courtney Davis (Therapeutic Recreation major) has quickly established herself as one of the premier softball catchers in the New England region, earning back-to-back All-NFCA New England honors as a sophomore and a freshman, while classmate Jess Williamson (Biology major) of the volleyball team, the 2014 New England Rookie of the Year, is presently ranked in the top 10 in NCAA Division III for kills and points per game leading a high-powered Husky offense.

These current and former Southern Maine student-athletes are just some of the unique and strong women that have worn a Huskies uniform while completing their diverse educational goals.  Over the next several months, the Huskies' Department of Athletics will highlight some of its top student-athletes, coaches and administrators, past and present, to celebrate its 50th Anniversary of Women's Intercollegiate Athletics.   In addition to the varied profiles, the USM Department of Athletics will host a celebration of its 50 Years of Women's Intercollegiate Athletics on Saturday, February 4 to coincide with the women's basketball and ice hockey games at the Costello Sports Complex.  Following the games, USM will host a special event at Spire 29 in Gorham (6:00 p.m.).

"I'm thrilled and so very proud to be a part of the 50th Anniversary of Women's Sports at the University of Southern Maine.  USM has such a rich history of supporting women's sports and continues to do so today," noted long-time USM Director of Athletics Al Bean. "The early leadership of the department believed strongly in the value of creating opportunities for young women to play and grow through participation in sport, long before Title IX was in place and made it law.  USM icons Paula D. Hodgdon and Richard "Doc" Costello played pivotal roles in the growth and development of opportunities for women.  Their philosophy lives on at USM and and their legacy has been honored for the past 50 years.  As we begin to honor 50 years of women's sports at USM, we also honor Paula Hodgdon, the architect of many sports programs and a mentor for countless young women who hoped to pursue athletics as a career."