PORTSMOUTH — The Great Bay Community College men's basketball team entered Tuesday night's game against UMaine-Augusta still seeking its first win, but coach Sean Young has seen moments from the first three games that make him think it's on the right track.
Moments both on the floor and off.
There was Saturday's game against UMaine-Machias that started in nightmarish fashion, with the visitors hitting from all over the court and the Herons falling behind 23-3 out of the gate.
Machias cooled off and Great Bay surged, erasing the gap and even taking a one-point lead before halftime. It would ultimately fall, 90-79, but it proved it could take a punch.
"That's when these guys started believing what I've been saying since Day 1," said Young, "that we are never out of a basketball game."
The men's and women's basketball programs at Great Bay, the highest-profile of the school's nascent athletic offerings, are in the early stages of their second seasons, each with a new coach after debut seasons that saw many more losses than wins.
On the women's side, Jeff Gray, the founder of the New Hampshire Running Rebels AAU program, was hired after Allyson Britton stepped aside to give more time to her responsibilities as athletic director.
His Herons (1-2) have had a tough go of it through three games, losing the last two by an average of 66.5 points. There were a lot of those scores in the second half of last season after top ball handler Markey Flewelling was lost to a season-ending injury and her team limped home 7-13.
"That's definitely what we've been trying to work on," said Gray, a former football standout at Portsmouth High School who played at the University of New Hampshire. "We played a very tough Dean College team and they pressed us, and we were able to break the press. We just couldn't finish the baskets in transition."
Guard Nichole Marrero of Dover and forward Ashley Lambert of Farmington are the top holdovers from last season and each is back in the starting lineup, with Lambert averaging 9 points and 8 rebounds.
"I've been pretty impressed with the play of Ashley Lambert," said Gray. "She gives us great leadership out on the floor."
Local freshmen Tasha Jarosz of Newmarket (12 points per game) and Ashley LaValley of Farmington are also making an impact. But depth is a concern, with Rachel Laughner among the players currently sidelined.
"Our team goal is to get better every time we step on the floor," said Gray. "One of the things I'm most proud of is they do fight through things."
On the men's side, Young was hired out of a pool of 248 applicants for the job that became open when Dave Sokolnicki stepped down after one season. His energy and enthusiasm were evident during his tenure at Epping High School, which he led to two trips to the Division IV championship game and a title in 2014.
With none of the players from last year's team returning, his recruiting skills were put to the test right off the bat, and he looks to have landed some good ones. Guards Tyler White out of Baltimore and Marcus Penna out of Lawrence, Mass., are averaging 26.7 and 19.3 points, respectively.
Two of the players Young coached to glory in Epping — Colby Wilson and Dylan Derosier — are in the 10-man rotation. So are Conner Bradway (Nute), Matt Wilson (Newmarket), Isaac Paradis (Spaulding), Caleb Gendron (Portsmouth Christian Academy), Elijah Casey and 31-year-old former assistant coach Tim Bradley.
"We're trying to catch up to teams very, very fast," said Young. "Even Colby and Dylan are learning verbiage and new offense. It's a learning experience for every single guy in this program right now.
"What's changed is our mental toughness," he said. "We have a lot of guys who are 'A' personalities and want to win. They expect perfection every time they step on the basketball court. We need them to realize they're not going to be perfect every time they step on the court, but if you make a mistake, we'll get it back."
On the scoreboard, the team's worst loss came last week to highly-regarded Dean (Mass.) College, 107-79, though the margin was just eight with 10 minutes to go.
Prior to that outcome, the Heron women were getting throttled in the first game of a women's/men's doubleheader, a first half the men's team watched and absorbed.
"We said, 'There's someone embarrassing your sisters. How are you going to react to that?'" said Young. "Something seemed to click with this group of guys. … We're a completely different basketball team from where we were on Oct. 1, the first day of tryouts."