Bowdoin seniors in new roles, on same roll

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Bowdoin athletics photo of Abby Kelly by
Abby Kelly had to replace the Player of the Year this season in the starting lineup.
Bowdoin athletics photo by

By Brian Lester

Bowdoin is in the final four for the second consecutive season, the first time it has happened in program history.

Four seniors, part of a class that wasn’t exactly the most heralded, have played a pivotal role in the Polar Bears’ run back to the national semifinals a year after finishing as the runner-up to Amherst.

Not always stars in the program, Abby Kelly, Hannah Graham, Taylor Choate and Cordelia Stewart, have embraced their roles regardless of what it’s been simply because it’s what has been best for the team.

“These four seniors have consistently sacrificed minutes and personal glory for the program,” Bowdoin head coach Adrienne Shibles said. “Each one has had a moment where she was asked to relinquish her starting spot, learn a new position or change her role because I felt it would put our team in the best possible position for success. To have earned their trust in the face of such sacrifice is the greatest gift a coach can possibly get.  I am forever grateful to these four.”

Kelly entered her senior season with big shoes to fill. She was replacing Kate Kerrigan in the starting lineup. Kerrigan not only earned NESCAC Player of the Year honors, but she was the national Player of the Year as well last season.

Until this season, Kelly had been primarily a bench player. She’s embraced her new role without hesitation and run with it, averaging 14.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Along the way, she has knocked down 42 3-pointers, dished out 60 assists and racked up 45 steals.

Kelly isn’t sure she’d be the same player she is today without that experience of coming off the bench.

“It’s been awesome finally having a starting position, but I also learned a lot being on the bench and learning from players that I have played under. It’s definitely been an advantage.”

Learning from one of the best to put on a Bowdoin uniform hasn’t hurt either.

“Kate is an incredible person and definitely one of the best I’ve ever played with because of her work ethic, her grit and her determination,” Kelly said. “She’s helped me develop into the person and player I’ve strived to become.”

Hannah Graham can relate to Kelly to a certain degree. She took over for Lydia Caputi, a co-captain for the Polar Bears last season. Graham has developed into a solid 3-point shooter, knocking down 35 of her 77 attempts, and she’s a vocal leader as well.

Graham also accepted her role of coming off the bench early in her career and has now capitalized on her opportunity as a starter, averaging 7.4 points per outing.

“I think coming off the bench has helped me develop my leadership skills. Being the voice of the huddles on the scout team last year prepared me well for the situation I am in now,” Graham said. “Watching Lydia play made it easy to fill in because of what I learned from her.”

Choate and Stewart have taken on new roles this season as well. Choate was a role player as a sophomore but has been a starter the last two seasons.

Though she was named the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year this season, she has thrived big time offensively in the NCAA Tournament, including a 38-point performance in an 87-78 win over Smith that lifted the Polar Bears into the Sweet 16. Choate hung 21 on Ithaca in an 87-61 Elite Eight win.

She has dished out 108 assists as well, one of two on the team with more than 100 – and has tallied 66 steals and four blocks.

Stewart was a starter for the Polar Bears last season, scoring the first points of the national title game, but injuries and matchups changed her role. She’s come off the bench this season and has embraced it. She averages 4.5 points per outing and has blocked 21 shots.

The fact that all four have done what is best for the team, even if it means making sacrifices, is hardly a surprise to Shibles because of the culture that has been created at Bowdoin.

“We make sure that the legacies of those Polar Bears who have come before them live on through stories of sacrifice,” Shibles said. “We find ways to celebrate examples of selflessness on the court every single day.”

In the NCAA Tournament, the Polar Bears had a different leading scorer in three of the four wins. A total of 60 assists were dished out in the victories. All five starters scored in double figures in the Elite Eight.

Graham said the culture of being unselfish starts outside the gym.

“It starts with us fostering relationships off the court that lead to great chemistry on it,” Graham said. “We all communicate well, and all have confidence in each other. We know any of us can step up at any given time.”

Kelly said the things each senior adds to the equation has helped maintain the team-first mentality.

“We all bring different kinds of leadership to the table and have a strong presence in different ways,” Kelly said. “It allows the underclassmen to connect with us in different ways. It’s been an honor to watch everyone learn and grow.”

Kelly is looking forward to putting that teamwork on display when Bowdoin takes on St. Thomas in a national semifinal Friday night in Salem.

“We get a chance to show the country how hard we’ve worked and how much loyalty and trust is on our team, and how well we work together within our system,” Kelly said. “We’re excited to have the opportunity and want to change the outcome this time.”