Husky greats of the past and present came together to celebrate 100 years of athletics at the University of Southern Maine.
Costello Sports Complex in Gorham hosted the anniversary festivities on December 9. The daylong roster of events included reunions, award ceremonies, and, of course, competitions.
“There was a great foundation laid many, many years ago,” said Director of Athletics Al Bean. “We’ve tried to really continue that tradition and make it a good home for people who are participating in this program.”
It all started with the 1922-1923 season. Then known at the Gorham Normal School, the University fielded its first teams to compete against other schools in men’s and women’s basketball.
The Athletics program grew under the leadership of coaches like Richard “Doc” Costello and Paula Hodgdon. Their impact continues to be felt through the many facilities, scholarships, and awards that bear their names.
As the program’s current steward, Bean has his eyes on the future. The upgrades he’d like to make to buildings and equipment require money. He hopes supporters will turn out this spring for the new Paula Hodgdon Walk for Women. The money it raises will help to expand offerings for female athletes.
The opportunities available to today’s student-athletes span 22 teams, evenly divided between men and women. The results speak for themselves with a long record of regional and national championships at both the individual and team level. As recently as this fall, USM claimed Little East Conference (LEC) championships in women’s soccer and field hockey.
“Southern Maine, most especially in track and field, clearly has been in my time here a dominant program overall,” said LEC Commissioner Pamela Samuelson. “In this sport as well as other sports you can name across the board, I think it shows the job that the coaches and the administrators do in providing the environment and the great culture that they have here to be successful.”
Samuelson inducted several Huskies into the LEC Hall of Fame during the anniversary celebration. And the parade of honors didn’t end there.
Track and Field
Emily Artesani Walton is the second woman to represent USM’s track and field team in the LEC Hall of Fame. By the time she graduated in 2010, Artesani Walton ran her way to school records at distances of 200, 400, 4×100, 4×200, and 4×400 meters. Her times in the 200, 400, and 500-meter races still rank among the top ten in USM history.
Her speed at 400 meters won Artesani Walton the NCAA Division III New England Championship in the 2008 outdoor track season. And in 2009, she was named the LEC Athlete of the Year.
Artesani Walton now works as a reading specialist at an independent school in Virginia. Memories of her own school days came flooding back once she stepped onto the track oval at the Costello Sports Complex to accept her Hall of Fame ring.
“These years go by quickly. It’s easier now having stepped away from the track for a while to look back and really think every workout, every hard meet, every run in the snow was very much worth it,” said Artesani Walton. “I would say to anyone to treasure the time, to work your very best at it every day, to listen to your coaches, and enjoy the time with your teammates.”
Artesani Walton shared the spotlight with two fellow track standouts, Sophia Slovenski and Ben Drummey. Athletes were warming up all around them for the meet that would follow the award ceremony. Having graduated just last May, Slovenski was still adjusting to life on the sidelines.
“It’s so fun to see my teammates compete,” Slovenski said. “And in all honesty, now I don’t have the stress of competing, which is nice. But at the same time, I miss it. I’m just pumped to get to cheer them all on and see new faces, as well.”
Slovenski set a high standard for those who follow in her footsteps. She won top honors in javelin at the 2021 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. Her other specialty was pole vault. Between throwing and jumping, she collected six LEC championships.
Just as impressive were Slovenski’s achievements off the field. She used her platform as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to promote mental health services and mentorship programs for local girls.
Awards have been pouring in to acknowledge Slovenski’s combination of competitiveness and caring. She currently holds the titles of LEC Student-Athlete of the Year and Division III Commissioner’s Association Student-Athlete of the Year. And she is one of nine finalists still in the running for the NCAA Woman of the Year award.
Slovenski dressed in USM’s school colors of blue and gold for the award presentation. But the next time she visits campus, she will likely be wearing the garnet and white colors of Bates College. She recently began work as an assistant coach with the Bates track team. Both her father and grandfather previously coached there.
“What’s so special about it is that every day I go to coach, I’m stepping into my grandfather’s track, the (Walter) Slovenski Track,” Slovenski said. “He unfortunately passed away a month before I was born, but at the same time, it’s such a blessing because I feel like we’re still connected. Every time I walk into the track, I feel his presence.”
When USM hosts Bates at the Maine State Meet in February, Slovenski and Drummey will be on opposite teams. The award ceremony gave them one last chance to cheer for each other as fellow Huskies. Drummey was there to accept his national championship ring for pole vault.
A jump of 5.05 meters earned Drummey the win at the 2023 NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field National Championships. It was his second national championship in a row. Between the two, he dislocated his shoulder and worked hard to regain his winning edge.
“I’m just thankful for everything,” Drummey said. “Thankful for the opportunity, to be healthy, and it’s obviously great to have everyone here supporting me.”
Drummey is now a senior and wants to close out his college career on top. Within minutes of leaving the award ceremony, he was back in competition at the USM Alumni Open. He walked away with another win by clearing a height of 4.95 meters.
At the same time the meet was underway, the women’s basketball team was also giving its all on the other side of the Costello Sports Complex. The Huskies had a special cheering section for their game against Eastern Connecticut State University consisting of members from the 1987-1988 women’s basketball team.
The former teammates reunited to celebrate their collective induction into the LEC Hall of Fame. They’re the first women’s team and the fourth team overall to receive that honor. One speaker after another shared memories of their magical season in the post-game award ceremony.
“We gave everything out on this court,” said Christine Mellor. “We were bruised all the time. You just fought and you just did it and you didn’t care who got the credit because it’s just who we were.”
The team was a juggernaut going 10-0 in conference play and 27-3 overall. After winning the LEC tournament, they set out to do the same thing in the NCAA Division III National Championship tournament. The Huskies knocked off their first three opponents before losing in the semifinal round.
On a team full of impact players, Diana Duff might have been the most impactful. She was an All-American selection, the LEC Player of the Year, and a member of the NCAA All-Tournament Team.
Duff’s teammates balanced their praise for her talent with good-natured teasing about her habit of always being late for practice. As penance, Coach Gary Fifield made them all run extra sprints. Duff didn’t hold any grudges. To the contrary, she was effusive about Fifield’s influence on her and the team.
“It was amazing to have somebody really push us, bring out the best,” Duff said.
The team chemistry was still obvious all these years later in the hugs and smiles between players. They had a lot of catching up to do since graduation. The conversation covered families and careers before circling back to basketball.
“I don’t think I’d want to play basketball with anybody but this crew. We had a blast,” said Amy Johnson.
Kris Littlefield agreed, adding, “I want a do-over. I want to go back in time and do it again in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat. I don’t care if it ended up exactly the same. I’d love to do it again.”
A lot of things have changed for the USM athletics program over the course of 100 years, from uniforms to equipment to training techniques. But the bonds between teammates remain as strong as ever.
The current team of Huskies won their game 60-58. Tamrah Gould dribbled through traffic to score the final shot with only two seconds left on the clock. After it was over, she celebrated by handing out a batch of cupcakes to any teammate who wanted one.
“It’s amazing to be part of such a wonderful family,” Gould said. “These girls really are like a second family to me. So it’s just amazing to be part of a team like this.”